Aug. 17 is the occasion when Indonesia commemorates the struggles of its founding fathers to break the shackles of colonialism to proclaim independence and lay the foundation of the modern republic that we see today.
The shared history of colonialism of both Indonesia and India brought our two peoples very close in the last century. The founding fathers of our two countries worked closely with each other, shared ideas and strategies and drew inspiration from each other’s struggle.
India hosted the Conference on Asian Relations in New Delhi in 1947, bringing together leaders of 29 countries to express solidarity with the freedom struggle in other parts of Asia and foster cooperation amongst Asian people, which was an early assertion of Asian identity.
Similarly, Indonesia hosted the Bandung Conference of 1955 bringing together the newly independent countries of Asia and Africa. Together, we helped write the closing chapters of colonialism and the opening sequence of the Non-Aligned Movement, which forged the bonds of South-South cooperation and Afro-Asian solidarity.
India-Indonesia diplomatic ties may be little more than 70 years old. But these seven decades of engagements have reconnected the people of India and Indonesia, and reignited a friendship forged through common civilizational links, a shared struggle against colonialism and an endeavor toward progress and prosperity.
India's ties with Indonesia stretch back more than two millennia. Forged in peace and friendship, religion and culture, art and commerce, language and literature, these enduring linkages are now present in every facet of the magnificent diversity of India and Southeast Asia, providing a unique envelope of comfort and familiarity between our people.
Be it the annual Bali Jatra celebrated in Odisha or the legends of Ramayana and Mahabharata, which are visible across the entire landscape of Indonesia. Sufi traders and Islamic missionaries from Gujarat carried Islam to Indonesia in the 13th century. Language and literature and the timeless art forms of ikat and batik strengthened these linkages. Trade and commerce flourished between our two countries.
These bonds between our two people led to the flowering of unique cultures with the same genes of tolerance, non-violence and compassion. Unity in diversity or Bhinneka Tunggal Ika is also a key facet of the shared societal value structures that both countries celebrate, as also the common values of democracy and rule of law.
The visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2018 was a landmark event in our bilateral ties, when the leaders of our two countries decided to strengthen our cooperation in all areas by establishing a new comprehensive strategic partnership and take our bilateral relationship into a new era.
Focused engagements with Southeast Asia has been a prominent feature of our government. In recent years, there have been intensive contacts between India and Indonesia at the leadership level and a rapid development of bilateral relations in political, security, defense, commercial and cultural fields, further strengthened by the “Act East” policy of India.
The Indo-Pacific region, is increasingly seen as a connectivity pathway - much of the world’s trade passes through these oceans. With the adoption of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific last year, the focus is now on evolving a new ASEAN-centric security architecture in this region. Indonesia as the largest country, most diverse democracy and biggest economy in the ASEAN region has a critical role to play in this regard.
India shares Indian Ocean maritime space with Indonesia. The Shared Vision of India-Indonesia Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific fits with our concept of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) and President Joko Widodo’s maritime fulcrum policy. Improving connectivity between India and Indonesia is a key strategic priority for both our countries. The significant progress made by us in improving connectivity between Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India and Aceh province of Indonesia is an important indicator in this regard.
Being the largest economy of ASEAN, Indonesia is also one of India’s largest trading partners in this region. In meetings of our leaders on the sidelines of multilateral fora in 2019, they gave a clear mandate to build a strong economic and development partnership that strengthens the flow of capital, trade, people and ideas between India and Indonesia. They also agreed to identify complementarities on which the two countries could work together for mutual benefit.
India and Indonesia, being large developing countries, have many common challenges in food security, health, technology, infrastructure etc. Especially, at a time when the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has posed new challenges in realizing our developmental goals, it is important for both our countries to come up with innovative solutions aimed at minimizing disruptions to trade and logistics.
India stands prepared to cooperate with Indonesia to tide over these difficult times. This pandemic has not slowed down the pace of our overall cooperation.
The writer is ambassador of India to Indonesia and Timor Leste.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.