The two sides already have exercises between their armies and navies

Amid the continuing border tensions between Beijing and New Delhi, India and Indonesia will soon hold a joint drill between their air forces in keeping with the objective of strengthening bilateral defence ties.

“By way of army cooperation, we have now strengthened from coordinated patrol within the Andaman Sea that has been occurring at least for the previous 17 years,” outgoing Indonesian Ambassador to India Sidharto Reza Suryodipuro was quoted saying by a report in The Print.

The two sides already have exercises between their armies and navies; air force to air force drills would start soon, he said.

The joint drill would send a powerful message to China especially at a time when Beijing and New Delhi are engaged in a standoff on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh.

In his address to the Ananta Aspen Centre, the ambassador stated, “India and Indonesia now have a shared imaginative and prescient of maritime cooperation within the Indo-Pacific”.

According to The Print report, he further said that in the past six years there has been a substantial strengthening of ties between both countries, which was later elevated to the Complete Strategic Partnership in 2018.

Speaking about the Quad countries - India, US, Japan and Australia - holding a joint naval exercise, the envoy said, “I think nations would establish their layers of diplomacy based on how they look at their environment and each nation’s perspective of the environment would be different”.

Suryodipuro was in favour of the ongoing connectivity project between Aceh and Andaman, where joint patrolling is currently underway, and expressed the hope that it would materialize soon.

He also said foreign ministers of India, Australia and Indonesia will meet to discuss trilateral cooperation.

Need to develop trade ties

The envoy emphasised that more steps have to be taken to strengthen economic and trade ties between Indonesia and India, The Print report said.

Two-way trade had touched $20 billion before the pandemic. But half of this was palm oil and coal exports from Indonesia to India, he pointed out. It is the remaining $10 billion that is traded on both sides.

On the other hand, India has been seeking access to Indonesian markets for its pharmaceutical produce, whereas Indonesia wanted larger investments in this sector.

The envoy commented, “The (Indonesian) pharma companies produce enough for the Indonesia market, however seeks the competition to be limited to protect the market.”

Due to the pandemic the situation has now changed. There is a growth in Indian pharmaceutical firms investing in Indonesia, he said.

In fact, Indonesia is in talks with India to procure Bharat Biotech’s Covid-19 vaccine.

Direct connectivity essential for growth

“Indonesia is India’s largest neighbour after China. We need to build closer business-to-business relationships, universities-to-universities, think-thanks to think-tanks, people-to-people, we need to build this by setting up direct connectivity,” said Suryodipuro, according to the report by The Print.

He further added that direct connectivity can be achieved by maritime connectivity and not by limiting it by air-to-air connectivity.

Suryodipuro stated, “When it comes to maritime connectivity, we can have smaller ships. It need not be huge vessels or super cargo ships. It can be direct between the coasts of India — Chennai or Kolkata — with the ports in Sumatra, Java.”

Read the full report in The Print