By RAJIV BHATIA
Right from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru, India shared a cordial relationship with Indonesia. It's time the two countries impart a new momentum to that relationship. Economic relations apart, the two nations should strengthen strategic cooperation and ensure regular consultations on their relations with their neighbours in the region, especially China
Experts would agree that Indonesia is yet to realise its full potential, quite like India. As large democracies committed to inclusive development, they are natural partners. Their closer engagement can enable them to play a role suitable to their size on the world stage. This basic realisation, combined with lasting links of history, culture and shared philosophy of `unity in diversity,' drives the bilateral relationship.
It is worth assessing if the recent visit of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to India will prove to be "a historic milestone", as claimed by the two sides.
During his previous visit in 2005, a Joint Declaration was signed, reflecting the decision by New Delhi and Jakarta to establish "a New Strategic Partnership". The visit in January 2011 has resulted in a Joint Statement which contains an agreement "to elevate" this partnership to "a higher level". How high can these relations go? The answer will depend on the depth of their foundations, the leaders' commitment to their vision and their capacity to translate lofty words into action.
In capturing the essence of India Indonesia relationship, no one can match Rabindranath Tagore. He began his celebrated poem, `To Java' in a gripping style: In a dim, distant, unrecorded age We had met, thou and I, When my speech became entangled in thine And my life in thy life.
The later stanzas spoke of journeys by `our ancestors' and how the two lands became `companion souls'. A subtle reference was made to the colonial period. On the basis of what he saw and discovered during his journey in 1927, Tagore called for renewing ties: Remember me, even as I remember thy face, And recognise in me as thine own That old that has been lost, to be regained and made new.
In due course, President Sukarno and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru undertook a renewal of relations, infusing them with `the Spirit of Bandung'. Mrs Indira Gandhi retained special affection for Indonesians. I witnessed Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, on his visit to Indonesia in October 1986, striving to impart a new momentum. In his banquet speech he used Tagore's words to great effect. The then President Suharto's Indonesia reciprocated warmly, with the presidential orchestra playing Sare jahan se accha Hindostan hamara to utter delight of our Embassy team in Jakarta. The present leaders are now carrying forward the tradition, buttressed by a whole new set of political and economic imperatives. The focus today seems to be less on personal equations of leaders and more on common approaches of the two countries as well as on insti tutionalising bilateral relations to an unprecedented extent.
While the two Governments have a broader view of the multi-dimensional relationship with its three strong pillars, media pundits tend to see it in the economic context only. For example, The Jakarta Post focussed exclusively on economic gains of Mr Yudhoyono visit in its editorial entitled Dancing with giants. Highlighting the growing trade and investment ties with India, it concluded that “comprehensive cooperation” with China, India, Japan and South Korea had “placed Indonesia strategically with the global supply chain”.
Economic dimension is indeed significant. Bilateral trade has shown healthy growth, increasing from $4 billion in 2005 to $12 billion in 2010. The new target set by the authorities is of $25 billion by 2015.
Trade balance is unfavourable to India.
Steady expansion in India’s investment presence in Indonesia is encouraging.
Building up on investment flows during 1970s, the new phase is marked by diversification of areas and entry of new actors.
Energy remains an attractive sector, with new cooperation possibilities having been identified in coal mining, oil and natural gas. Decision to commence negotiations
for a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement is a timely step.
The visit’s success is reflected in the signing of 18 MOUs at business level.
However, the noteworthy point is that the other two pillars of relationship, namely strategic cooperation and cooperation in ‘other areas’ , are of enormous importance too. The first one covers political dialogue, cooperation regarding security and defence and exchanges on long-term strategic matters. The two Foreign Offices need to ensure regular consultations not only about bilateral relations but also about each country’s relations with its neighbours, especially
China and other Great Powers. These should be in addition to current dialogue within the framework of ASEAN and related institutions. Each country can also brief the other about its other important relationships: For example, Indonesia would be as curious about India’s relations with South Africa, Brazil and Mexico as South Block should be in a regular, first-hand appreciation of Indonesia’s relations with Japan, Australia and the Pacific region. The two Governments have been engaged in crafting cooperation on defence matters, maritime security, intelligence exchanges and endeavours to combat terrorism. Both the documents referred above seem to accord priority to this package.
‘Other cooperation’ is wide ranging as it impacts on a diversity of fields — culture, education, capacity-building, science and technology, health, tourism, academic exchanges and people-to-people contacts.
The decision to establish a Consulate in Bali is welcome. Our Jakarta Embassy has been active in promoting cultural cooperation.
Its counterpart in New Delhi can contribute more by bringing Indonesian artistes and engaging widely with opinion makers and think tanks. An Eminent Persons’ Group has been set up to develop the ‘Vision Statement 2025’ . Its recommendations will be awaited with interest by all those interested in India-Indonesia relations.
New institutional linkages will be established: A biennial Forum of Trade Ministers, a biennial dialogue between Defence Ministers, and regular exchanges involving several other key Ministers. Eleven new Agreements have been signed. Besides, existing mechanisms are being activated. The year 2011 will be celebrated as “the year of six decades of diplomatic relations”. The two Governments will clearly be busy, implementing these decisions and monitoring their progress. Mr Yudhoyono’ s visit has generated a new hope, but sustained action in future by Ministers, officials, diplomats and others alone will justify this optimism.
(A former Ambassador to several countries, the author served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Jakarta.)
Source: The Pioneer