In swift follow-up action, Indian warship visits Indonesia’s Sabang port - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 10 July 2018

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

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

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th July 18

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

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

This swift follow-up comes on the heels of the joint announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi 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 Sabang.”

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 Sabang was suitable for both civilian and military vessels, “including submarines.”

India is already building up the Andaman & Nicobar Islands as a tri-service command to watch over the eastern Indian Ocean, especially the Malacca Strait, the prime international shipping route through which merchant and military vessels transit between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.

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 Malacca Strait, the navy has at least one warship always on patrol in those waters. Access to Sabang Port will allow the navy to dominate Malacca more effectively.

Indonesia 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-Indonesia Coordinated Patrol” – where the two navies, in a gesture of friendship and cooperation, jointly sail along the maritime boundary between the two countries.

The Indian Navy 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 South China Sea.

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 ASEAN 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 ASEAN is central to New Delhi’s Indo-Pacific strategy, India invited the heads of all ten ASEAN 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 Gwadar port.

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 Indian Navy 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.


  1. I just cannot believe it! Global Times, Liu Zongyi
    A tiny corvette controlling Sbang water and even the straits.
    This will cause our admirals Hubris, they already have swollen heads,
    NO, Indian ships visit to watch the flying fish instead.
    As that romantic Kipling song goes.
    “where the old Flotilla lay Can't you 'ear their paddles, from Rangoon to Mandalay ...On these roads to Mandalay, where the flying-fishes play”
    We all know the economies of China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore are dependent on keeping nearby Malacca free.
    Each one of these of these countries can blow out of the water, India's entire Andaman Nicobar command.
    Indians reading this, should be aware even deploying the entire Indian Navy in the area cannot exercise a modicum of control over these straits.
    There are powerful forces in the area.
    State Controlled Global Times, Liu Zongyi writings should be taken with a pinch of salt.
    Example - if a conflict between India and just the tiny city state of Singapore alone, most bets are on Singapore winning.
    China is indeed establishing alternative routes to the strait, that is partly why the belt (the railway network to Europe and route to Gwadar port is being developed).
    Once China has an alternative it can then block these straits during war and this is real threat to Japan, Singapore, S Korea and Taiwan.
    India does not have a dog in this game, not even a mouse.
    We Indians should concentrate on jobs for our bulging youthful population,
    therein lies our greatest security threat.
    Spend on education, stop wasting money in sending ships on excursion to see flying fish.

  2. India wants to join forces with Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, USA against China and play the game in the South China Sea.
    China does not need to confront India that far away, it’s just next door in Tibet and can turn very ugly if it needs be.
    This provocation by India by sending ships, does little to upset the strategic balance in the S China Sea but it bodes Ill for detente in our relations with China to which the cornerstone must be trust.
    We face a myriad of problems not least the coming catastrophe of climate change, already large tracts of Jharkhand are parched and there will be a huge future water shortage. India demographic bulge is now out of control with increasing unemployment and unrest.
    Our priority should be make peace with China, it’s huge economy can assist Indias own industrial development and create the needed non agricultural jobs.
    The trouble is that we are ruled by a bureaucracy with a colonial mindset which is not designed to serve the ‘common man’ - these bureaucrats for years have held in thrall our ignorant politicians.
    We want bigger ships, bigger guns, advanced aircraft but these will not help if the state fails to address India’s greatest vulnerabilities.

  3. This is a great move. How will this play out, as Indonesia is becoming more islamic by the day, with reports of muslim beef lynching supported by the indian government? Will the indian national interest be hurt? It would be good if the RSS and BJP started making inroads in Indonesia, there is a sizable hindu population there.


  4. I think you should make it illegal to post anonymous comments on this blog. SOme of these comments are highly suspicious. Most cringe worthy is the anonymous comment that went like "Our priority should be make peace with China, it’s huge economy can assist Indias own industrial development and create the needed non agricultural jobs."
    China assisting someone else??? Oh please.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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