Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has just concluded a two-day visit to India, on 12 and 13 December. Ahead of the visit, Jokowi told the Press Trust of India that he hopes to increase ties in all sectors, adding that ‘We have huge infrastructure needs, including toll roads, power plants, ports and airports. This is especially the case for the areas outside Java… We feel that investments in this (infrastructure) sector will prove just as lucrative’. Also mentioned was the need for closer cooperation between both countries in defence and counter-terrorism and the possibility of a bilateral trade agreement. This was the first visit to India by Widodo since he assumed office in October 2014.
In a joint statement released after the first day of the visit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi confirmed that both countries are looking to expand their defence and security ties. Looking towards the future, both leaders assigned their ministers attending the meeting with a number of tasks, including to upgrade the existing Agreement on Co-operation Activities in the Fields of Defence into a more substantiative agreement and to explore the possibility for joint production of defence industry equipment. The joint production of defence materiel, which will include technology transfer, technical assistance and capacity building, is part of a wider effort from both countries to establish an indigenous capability in their respective defence industries. While India has shown greater progress towards this goal in recent years, previous efforts from Indonesia under former president B.J. Habibie fell short in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. A sovereign defence capability is crucial to guarantee a degree maritime security in the long term for both countries.
While the focus was primarily on defence ties and maritime co-operation, there was some minor progress in the economic sphere. Specifically, both leaders encouraged further dialogue among business leaders in the sector as well as the implementation of a number for previously signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs). Jokowi, along with five Indonesian CEOs, also met with twenty Indian business leaders to discuss possible investment into Indonesia. As noted in the Strategic Weekly Analysis, investment is a crucial part of the government’s plan to expand infrastructure and continue to grow the economy.
The major talking point during the visit was maritime co-operation, which led to a separate statement on that issue alone. In the statement released by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, both countries agreed to conclude an MoU on Maritime Co-operation to ‘strengthen and accelerate maritime co-operation inter alia in maritime safety and security, and promotion of maritime industries, as one of the important pillars towards enhancing the bilateral relationship’. Some commentators have seen this as a move to counter China’s influence in the South China Sea. The issue was mentioned in the other joint statement, in which both countries stressed that any disputes must be resolved peacefully and according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. While China’s posturing in the South China Sea is no doubt of concern to both countries, the goal of maritime co-operation as expressed in the statement appears to be focussed more on countering piracy and terrorism and securing trade routes in the region.