'Does India Have Any Interest In Ties With SE Asia?'

Indonesia\'s ambassador Rizali Wilmar Indrakesuma, claims no movement in bilateral MoUs signed in the past with India

Published: 11th April 2016 03:23 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th April 2016 03:23 AM   |  A+A-

CHENNAI: At first glance Rizali Wilmar Indrakesuma is a quiet man. But bring up Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s possible Indonesian visit and the flat trade activity between the nations and the Ambassador’s diplomatic line of responses see a shift. “The Prime Minister has visited China, Japan and USA. The question would then be ‘what about us?’ Do you (India) have any interest in continuing relations or cooperation with South East Asian countries?” he says with concern. Excerpts from the interaction:

Is there any chatter of Prime Minister Modi visiting Indonesia soon?

Our government has always wanted him to visit. We are the Indian Ocean Regional Association’s chairman and now there is this talk of having a summit for that. If that happens in March 2017, probably Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit us then.

How have you viewed trade and general relations between both countries?

The PM has visited China, Japan, USA and even strengthened relations with the SAARC countries. The question would then be ‘what about us?’ Do you have any interest in continuing relations or cooperation with South East Asian countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos or Philippines? This is an indication that we have failed to see from the government. Modi has invited our president to India and we hope to see that materialse in the early part of July or August. Perhaps that is the best way to increase our partnership to potential.

There have been a lot of agreements signed in the past though.

Having MoUs and agreements signed in the past, we have learnt, based on our relations with India, that we need to be careful about whether we are able to follow up on what we had committed to. Back in 2011, our President attended the Republic Day parade here, and there were 33 MoUs signed in his presence.  This is a case in point, because now, five years later, we have not made progress. When we look back at what has been achieved, we find that there’s almost nothing at all, I’m sorry to say.

Is there a chance of reviving some of them?

Some of the MoUs might need to be rescinded simply because the companies may not even exist, both Indian and Indonesian. On the government side also agreements have been signed and nothing had been done. It’s almost like you sign something and you leave it there. Our relationship is such that we are not looking for anyone to blame. I think that things are getting better now. I see that there is still hope of this big potential of economic partnership between our countries.

Was the target for India-Indonesia trade of $25 billion met last year?

We did not meet the target. Last year it only came to $18 billion so it’s far from the target. This year too were trying to reach last year’s target but with the slowdown and other issues that may take a while. The fact that we’ve not been able to make that 20 billion target that we set in 2011 is an indication of how hard we’ve had to work.

What about tourism? That must have improved substantially with the increase of low cost carriers like AirAsia.

Not really. The flow of tourists relies heavily on a direct flight. Very simple rationale. If I have to go to Singapore, Bangkok or KL to get to Indonesia I’d rather go there rather than connect to Indonesia. The plan has been there for more than 10 years and there still seem to be some obstacles. We want our national air carrier to fly to India but people talk about financial constraints. Both countries are dragging their feet equally but we all know that Indonesia needs the tourists more. There are 20 million tourists going out of India every year, and Indonesia gets only about 200,000 visitors. The last I heard, our airline is considering a chartered flights to test the waters. I don’t see that as necessary but they’re going to start after our President’s visit.

It appears our intelligence agencies are working well together, with cases such as the arrest of Chhota Rajan in Bali. What is the comfort level of our governments collaborating on issues like money laundering and extradition?

I would say at this point the focus is more on counter terrorism. There is an annual meeting between our officials and we share ideas and information and experiences. There is also communication between the intelligence agencies, which are different from the ones dealing with terrorism.

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