Days ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Indonesia, the country has agreed to give India military access to a port that will come up at one of its islands located close to the Malacca Strait, Hindustan Times reports.
Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, speaking at an event in New Delhi, said that the two countries can coordinate more in the maritime domain, adding that the engagement will grow "when the Sabang seaport is established with India”. He also mentioned that the port will be capable of supporting submarines, hinting that Indian navy could get access to it.
“India and Indonesia have started naval drills in 2017, but we can explore more. This will become even better when the Sabang seaport is established with India. Sabang port has a depth of 40 metres which is good even for submarines,” the minister, Luhut Pandjaitan, was quoted by Times of India as saying.
However, no deal has yet been reached.
“It’s a verbal understanding at this stage. The Indonesian side will hold a meeting next week to seek ways to turn it into a reality,” an Indonesian official accompanying Pandjaitan said.
India and Indonesia have been discussing the idea of developing the port in Sabang, which currently has rudimentary facilities, since 2014-15. However, questions have been raised on the economic viability of the port.
The island of Sabang is located 710 km southeast of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and around 500 km from the Malacca Strait - a choke point which connects the eastern part of the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea. More than 30 per cent of the world’s seaborne trade passes through the Malacca Strait. Around 80 per cent of China’s energy supply (by sea) also reaches its ports through the strait, making the country heavily dependent on the narrow passage. Almost 40 per cent of India’s trade also passes through the strait. Therefore, increased Indian presence in the region around this strait is important for both security and economic benefits.
The Malacca Strait, along with other narrow passages in the area such as the Sunda and Lombok Straits, is also used by the People’s Liberation Army Navy to enter and leave the Indian Ocean. Access to a port close to these narrow channels will help India keep an eye on the movement of Chinese Navy vessels.
Indonesia’s proposal comes just days after India decided to station fighter jets of the Indian Air Force at the bases in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. India has also put in place a new naval strategy called ‘mission-based deployments’. Under this plan, the Navy deploys combat-ready ships and aircraft along important sea-lanes of communications and 'choke points' in the Indian Ocean to maintain a continuous presence and monitor activities of extra-regional powers.
In February, Oman had granted India access to the port of Duqm for military use.