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In swift follow-up action, Indian warship visits Indonesia's Sabang port

Delhi, Jakarta agreed in May to develop strategic port near Malacca

Ajai Shukla  |  New Delhi 

Presidential ship INS Sumitra proceeds for fleet review. Photo: Twitter
File picture of Presidential ship INS Sumitra proceeding for fleet review. Photo: Twitter

On Wednesday, the patrol vessel, INS Sumitra, became the first-ever to sail into the Indonesian port of Sabang, strategically poised at the mouth of the Strait.

Underlining the importance New Delhi and Jakarta place on the visit, the vessel was welcomed to by traditional Indonesian dancers, Indonesian navy and air force officers, and Indian diplomats based in Jakarta, including the ambassador, P K Rawat.

This swift follow-up comes on the heels of thejoint announcement by Prime Minister and Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo,in Jakarta on May 30,that an Indian-Indonesian joint task force would “undertake projects for port related infrastructure in and around

A fortnight before that, Luhut Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s minister for maritime affairs, on a visit to New Delhi to negotiate the agreement, noted that the 40 feet-deep port at was suitable for both civilian and military vessels, “including submarines.”

India is already building up the as a tri-service command to watch over the eastern Indian Ocean, especially the Strait, the prime international shipping route through which merchant and military vessels transit between the and the

But Port Blair, the headquarters of India’s Andaman and Nicober Command, is 500 nautical miles – almost 1,000 kilometres – from Sabang, in Banda Aceh. To exercise control over the Strait, the navy has at least one always on patrol in those waters. Access to Sabang Port will allow the navy to dominate Malacca more effectively.

Indian Navy
Access to Sabang Port will allow the navy to dominate Malacca more effectively photo: Reuters

shares Indian concerns about an aggressively rising China. During Modi’s visit last month, the two sides signed a Defence Cooperation Agreement. This will supplement a recently instituted “security dialogue”, a biennial dialogue between the defence ministers and a “joint defence cooperation committee” that will meet for the sixth time in August. The two armies train together in the Garuda Shakti exercises.

From May 24 to June 9, a navy corvette, INS Kulish, and a Dornier maritime patrol aircraft of the Andaman & Nicobar Command conducted the annual “India-Coordinated Patrol” – where the two navies, in a gesture of friendship and cooperation, jointly sail along the maritime boundary between the two countries.

The also conducts coordinated patrols with the Bangladeshi and Thai navies. And last month, for the first time, the Indian and Vietnamese navies exercised together in the

A day after visiting Jakarta, Modi also signed agreements with Singapore, including a logistics support agreement that allows Indian warships to replenish in Singapore.New Delhi’s defence relationship with Singapore is the closest it has with any country.

On June 1, addressing the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, also attended by key security managers including US Defence Secretary James Mattis, Modi declared that India would work with members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to maintain a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific.

In a signal that is central to New Delhi’s Indo-Pacific strategy, India invited the heads of all ten countries as guests of honour at the Republic Day parade in January.

According to the most recent data, about $3 trillion worth of cargo transits throught Malacca every year, in about 100,000 merchant vessels. Beijing’s concerns about this lifeline being cut – which strategists call China’s “Malacca Dilemma” – leads it to consider alternative routes that bypass Malacca, such as through Pakistan’s

Beijing is watching the Indian Navy’s forays into Southeast Asian waters warily. In the English language on-line Chinese newspaper, Global Times, Liu Zongyi of the government-affiliated Shanghai Institute of Strategic Studies wrote: “After controlling the Sabang port, the can easily block the northern exit of the Strait of Malacca. Besides, the Indian Navy visited Vietnam and held a military exercise with the Vietnamese Navy before the dialogue… Despite Modi's recent softer stance, China needs to carefully watch New Delhi's diplomatic moves in the Indo-Pacific region.

First Published: Wed, July 11 2018. 01:51 IST