India and Indonesia are two vibrant democracies with converging interests resting on shared history and rich cultural linkages dating back centuries. Both countries, given their size, population, and status as key maritime entities share leading roles in the region. The past few years have underlined that the foundation of the bilateral relationship between India and Indonesia stands strong but must extend beyond shared history and cultural linkages to new contemporary areas of strategic significance.
Against this backdrop the Ananta Aspen Centre held a digital session on “India – Indonesia relations and the Indo-Pacific” with H.E. Mr. Sidharto Reza Suryodipuro, Ambassador of Indonesia to India chaired by Dr. Naushad Forbes, Co - Chairman, Forbes Marshall; Chairman, Ananta Aspen Centre.
Over the years, both governments have made conscious efforts to enhance cooperation. In 2018, bilateral relations were elevated to “Comprehensive Strategic Cooperation” which added to the building momentum. However, the potential for trade between the two countries remains severely under tapped. New trade links have been relatively slow to develop and Indian investments in Indonesia have been minimal.
The discussion highlighted key potential areas of collaboration to spearhead and materialize the action plan between the two countries. The first being efforts to establish direct shipping links between Andaman Nicobar Islands and Sabang to develop cooperation between navies and coast guards. Indonesia believes that being the second largest country in the Indo-Pacific region, they along with India can set a tone for the region. Indonesia aims to increase maritime cooperation with India including cruise-ship tourism and coastal shipping between the Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Aceh. Secondly, realising the opportunities in the pharmaceutical industry with easy access and reduction in prices. Vaccines also offer another important area for fostering research and development, joint ventures on active pharmaceutical ingredients, and collaboration between different stakeholders.
Another key area is to increase the collaboration in the connectivity and infrastructure projects with the need of private as well as public firms to visit and understand both countries’ requirements through dialogues, regular interactions and visits beyond the ministerial/summit levels. It is crucial for companies from both sides to visit the other as it offers room for growth and opportunities via contextual knowledge. Moreover, realizing the strength of the entrepreneurial class stands important in these times to drive the future road map of the bilateral relationship in the coming decades. Initiating direct flights from Hyderabad and Bangalore along with the existing four metropolitan cities of India to increase accessibility, affordability, and sustenance of economic cooperation would go a long way in realizing this and other bilateral visions.
With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing unprecedented challenges, it offered the space for countries to reinvigorate untapped areas and enrich the ones that stand crucial to take the country’s growth forward. One such area identified in this session was the tourism industry and the exchange of students. Encouraging University to University ties and creating more familiarity among the diaspora of both countries would be beneficial in many ways. This is an opportune moment to make the relationship between India and Indonesia more robust in the coming decades and centuries ahead.
On the geopolitical front, QUAD plays an important role in the regional security and strategic conversation for many South Asian players but Indonesia has not yet received an invitation to join these conversations.
Indonesia honoured the late Biju Patnaik by naming a room in the Indonesian embassy in New Delhi after him. Biju Patnaik’s contribution to Indonesia’s Independence was immense and the room will be used as a guest lounge where a repository of books and pictures will be featured.
This digital session was a part of a series on “Ambassador Series”
Please watch the full session on YouTube: https://youtu.be/SPKfCr7tffk