Why is India stepping up its engagement with Indonesia and Vietnam?
NEW DELHI: In India’s conception of the Indo-Pacific region, the principle of ASEAN centrality is central. In recent years, India’s defense ties with the 10 ASEAN members, both regionally and bilaterally, have deepened. India’s deepening security ties with Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines are particularly noteworthy.
From June 13 to 24, India and Indonesia organized coordinated naval patrols. The patrol included a visit by Indonesian naval units to Andaman Nicobar Command based in Port Blair. It was followed by a maritime phase in the Andaman Sea and finally, Indian naval units paid a visit to the port of Sabang in Indonesia.
The overall effort was aimed at strengthening regional maritime security cooperation. Coordinated patrols between India and Indonesia have been taking place since 2002 and have enhanced “understanding and interoperability between the two navies and facilitated measures to prevent and suppress illegal, unreported and unregistered fishing”. (IUU), drug trafficking, maritime terrorism, armed robbery, and piracy, etc.”
The visit to Sabang by Indian Navy officials is significant because since 2018, India has gained access to the strategically important port. India is developing port infrastructure at Sabang and there have been discussions of developing an economic zone around the port.
The deep water port is well suited to accommodate all kinds of warships, including submarines. The ability to access Sabang, which is located at the northern tip of the island of Sumatra, near the mouth of the Strait of Malacca, will expand India’s ability to monitor the world’s major maritime choke point.
For India, Malacca is essential not only for its own international trade with Southeast and East Asia, but also for closely monitoring Chinese shipping, including energy supplies and warships. crossing the narrow waterway.
China is overly dependent on the Strait of Malacca for its trade and energy. It seeks to alleviate the “Malacca Dilemma” and expand naval presence west of Malacca in the Indian Ocean. Enhanced engagement, particularly in port development, with countries such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Djibouti plays a key role in achieving this goal. Therefore, as China moves west, India has no choice but to seek access and forge strategic links to the east.
The sale of BrahMos missiles to the Philippines is an important marker of India’s growing defense role in Southeast Asia. On this basis, two recent developments underline the growing importance of Southeast Asia in India’s defense strategy as well as its Indo-Pacific influence. This month, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh visited Vietnam. Following this, the Indian and Indonesian navies carried out joint patrols in the maritime region encompassing the Andaman Sea and the Strait of Malacca.
Rajnath Singh’s three-day visit, which began on June 8, to Vietnam has further strengthened the military ties between the two countries. India has handed over 12 high-speed guard boats to Vietnam which were built under a US$100 million line of credit (LoC).
During the visit, the two sides signed a “Joint Vision Statement on India-Vietnam Defense Partnership towards 2030” and India extended a new $500 million defense line of credit. These two measures aim to strengthen military cooperation between the two key Indo-Pacific partners. In addition, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), aimed at facilitating the provision of mutually beneficial logistical support, has been signed. This is the first such agreement signed by Vietnam with another country. The MoU will further increase the Indian Navy’s ability to expand its reach in the South China Sea and Western Pacific.
India and Vietnam share a broad convergence of interests and have common concerns. Both are concerned about China’s expansionist policies and aggressive foreign policy behavior. India and China are locked in a territorial stalemate in Ladakh while Vietnam (along with four other ASEAN partners) worries about Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea. Therefore, China’s common challenge is a key binding factor for the relationship. In this context, the defense relationship has become an essential pillar of the Indo-Vietnamese strategic partnership. The enhanced military partnership will not only enhance Vietnam’s capabilities, but also contribute to regional security and stability.
Deepening military cooperation with countries like Indonesia and Vietnam is necessary in this context. In the rapidly changing geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific region, these strategic middle-power relationships contribute to regional stability and the maintenance of the balance of power and, therefore, their importance cannot be overemphasized.