NEW DELHI: "We are entering one of the best periods in bilateral relations in the 70 years since we established diplomatic relations," believes Indonesia's ambassador to India, Sidharto R Suryodipuro.
Addressing a group of foreign correspondents at the India International Center in New Delhi on Thursday, Suryodipuro backed his statement by pointing out that "last year, the trade numbers were the highest ever, the number of visitors was the highest ever, and similarly, in terms of bilateral visits, our president was here in 2016, prime minister of India visited Indonesia a few months ago, and in the one year that I have been here I have received my ministers of trade, health, of defence, coordinating minister for political security and human rights, coordinating minister for maritime cooperation, and a number of other ministers and heads of agencies.."
In terms of economics, trade, and political engagement, "this has been the best time in terms of how we are giving meaning to India and Indonesia as maritime neighbours. We have set up a joint task force to explore the connectivity between Sabang port in the northern tip of Sumatra and the Andamans. Sabang will be open for port visits by navies, and we are looking at connectivity with Indian ports of Chennai and Kolkata, which we don't have yet. We are planning to undertake the first ever joint naval exercise, air force exercise, we are looking at how to expand coordinated patrols between the Andamans and north Sumatra. In 70 years of bilateral relations --we established full diplomatic relations in 1949 -- we have not always had the same regional outlook. But after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech at the Shangri La dialogue in Singapore, it was very similar and familiar to Indonesians. We now look at the region in the same way," he said.
Regarding the South China Sea issue, he said Indonesia supported the Law of the Sea and the freedom of navigation and overflight. It is a "situation that needs to be managed. Within the ASEAN-China context, we are working on a code of conduct. We are not part of the South China claim states, but we don't have disputes or valid legal arguments on our territorial claims."
"We have been holding the coordinated patrols between the Andamans and Sumatra, now that it is expanding into naval exercises, as well as exercises with the services of the other armed forces. Other than exercises, we are looking at how we expand our information sharing, and training," he added. While developing the regional security architecture, "we are also building the relationship in the soft side as well, like infrastructure, people to people and student exchanges. We talked about our ancient historical and cultural ties, but the number of Indonesian students in India is very low, at the moment it is less than 150..we need to rediscover those ties. India and Indonesia are neighbours, but geography is matter of mindset, so we need to adjust our mindsets."