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Andaman emerging as key pillar of India-Indonesia strategic partnership in Bay of Bengal

JAKARTA: Andaman Nicobar Islands are emerging as a key pillar in India’s strategic partnership with Indonesia, amid China‘s growing interest in the Bay of Bengal.

Officials told ET that to promote economic cooperation between Andaman Nicobar Islands and Aceh and North Sumatra Province, India and Indonesia have agreed to jointly develop cruise and eco-tourism, establish air transport connectivity through regular commercial flights between Indonesia and Port Blair, and sea transportation in the form of RoRo vessel shipping to facilitate trade between the two regions (supply of commodity).

This agreement is in line with Indonesia’s wider Indo-Pacific strategy which could help counter-balance China‘s growing interest in the region.

On Tuesday, Jakarta hosted the 2nd India Indonesia Infrastructure Forum (IIIF). The event, organised by the Indian embassy and Indonesia’s coordinating ministry of maritime affairs, was inaugurated by Luhut Binsar Pandjaian, Coordinating Minister of Maritime Affairs. Nova Iriansyah, Governor of Aceh Province (which seeks direct connect with Andamans), A Gitesh Sarma, Secretary (West) MEA, and Indian envoy Pradeep Kumar Rawat were present on the occasion.

Pandjaian welcomed the Indian corporate leaders and outlined the improved investment climate in the country. The minister underscored that infrastructure development was a top priority for the Indonesian government.

The governor of Aceh stated that both sides were working to achieve better connectivity between Banda Aceh and Andaman Nicobar Islands.

The first-ever India Indonesia Business forum (IIBF) was held in Port Blair late last year as part of policies of Delhi and Jakarta to expand their strategic partnership in the Indo-Pacific Region, including the Indian Ocean Region. The forum was a first step to facilitate the commercial and people-to-people linkages between Andaman Nicobar Islands with Aceh and North Sumatera Province of Indonesia.

On November 5, a focus group discussion titled ‘Enhancing Business Connectivity between Aceh and Andaman Nicobar’ was organised in Banda Aceh.

A team of researchers from Aceh also visited Andaman in November to explore the benefits and potential of enhancing physical connectivity between the two places.

In May last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made an official visit to Indonesia, where he President Joko Widodo had underlined the importance of stronger connectivity, particularly sea links, in order to facilitate economic cooperation and people-to-people contact between the two maritime neighbours.

(The writer is in Jakarta at the invite of the Indonesian government)