India and Indonesia have had civilisational relations with each other since time immemorial. Both shared close cultural and commercial contacts. The Hindu, Buddhist and, later the Muslim faith, travelled to Indonesia from the shores of India. The Indonesian folk art and dramas are based on stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata. The shared culture, colonial history and post-Independence goals of political sovereignty, economic selfsufficiency and independent foreign policy have unifying effects on relations between the two countries.
President Sukarno of Indonesia was the Guest of Honour during the first Republic Day of India in 1950. During their respective struggle for independence, the national leadership of India and Indonesia, led by Jawaharlal Nehru and President Sukarno, collaborated closely in supporting the cause of Asian and African independence. It later laid the foundation of the AfroAsian and non-aligned movements at the Bandung Conference in 1955.
Since the adoption of India’s ‘Look East Policy’ in 1991, there has been a rapid development of bilateral relations in political, security, defence, commercial and cultural fields. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Government further deepened the relationship with East Asia and renamed the policy as ‘Act East’.
Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelagic state. It stretches across three official time zones and contains the world’s second, third and sixth largest islands (Papua, Kalimantan and Sumatra). Ninety per cent of the world’s trade is sea-borne and 38 per cent of that passes through four Southeast Asian straits. Of these, three belong exclusively to Indonesia. Being an island race, Indonesians have always been open to foreigners, but their rulers have also been conscious of the strategic importance of their geography.
In his book ‘A Survey of Indian History’, noted historian KM Panikkar writes that Indonesia guarded the sea routes to India for 700 years and the very name ‘Indian Ocean’ would not have existed if the Srivijaya Empire had not kept China at arm’s length.
Not only is Indonesia a giant country, it is exceptionally well-endowed with natural resources. It is the world’s largest producer of palm oil, the second largest producer of tin, the third largest producer of rubber and cocoa, the fourth largest producer of coffee and the fifth largest in the production of copper and nickel. The country has sizeable quantities of timber, bauxite, gold, fisheries and rare earths, and has recently overtaken Australia to become the world’s largest exporter of thermal coal.
Indonesia has emerged as the second-largest trading partner of India in the ASEAN region. Presently, around $25-billion trade is going on between the two countries and it is targeted to reach the $50-billion mark by 2027. After PM Modi’s visit to Indonesia in 2018 and again his meeting with the Indonesian President on the sideline of ASEAN meeting in Thailand in 2019, both countries agreed to strengthen cooperation in all areas by establishing a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
Last year, at the G20 summit held in Rome, PM Modi said strong relations with Indonesia are key part of India’s ‘Act East’ policy and ‘SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region) vision. Ways to improve economic linkages and cultural cooperation figured prominently during the meeting with the Indonesian President on the sideline of G20.
Last month, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar visited Indonesian capital Bali to participate in the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in which the participating FMs deliberated on issues of contemporary relevance, such as strengthening multilateralism and current global challenges, including food and energy security.