While Indonesia has been supportive of India’s participation in the ASEAN-sponsored East Asia Summit to be held in Malaysia in December, it has reservations about the idea of Indian Navy patrolling the Malacca Straits.
The Indonesian government plans to take up the issue with Indian Navy Chief Admiral Arun Prakash when he arrives here later this month. The Admiral’s visit will coincide with the arrival in Indonesian waters of his navy’s pride, INS Viraat, on a goodwill mission.
A few years ago, during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Indian warships had escorted high-value American naval assets through the Malacca Straits.
‘‘We wish to make clear that the Strait of Malacca is not an international strait. It’s only for international navigation and the responsibility of its safety lies with the three states of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. While we realise that user countries have understandable interest in ensuring security, whatever efforts are being made will need to have the consent of these three states,’’ Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Marty M. Natalegawa, who’s also the Director General for ASEAN Cooperation, told visiting Indian journalists.
Though the Indian and Indonesian navies have been conducting coordinated patrols — it started in September 2004 in the Six Degree Channel, west of the Strait of Malacca between the Nicobar Islands and Indonesia’s Aceh province — Jakarta points to sovereignty sensitivity when it comes to the Strait of Malacca.
The Indonesian government, which was initially praised for showing ‘‘flexibility’’ in letting American and Indian warships escort ships through the strait, is now under attack at home for the same reason.
Stung by reports which quoted American and Indian officials who described the escort-assignments as joint patrols, Jakarta has begun to draw a clear distinction between patrols and escorts: Any patrolling or policing of the strait can be the responsibility of only Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore’s trilateral patrols. Asked if the matter would be raised during the Navy chief’s visit, Natalegawa replied in the affirmative, saying ‘‘We will be engaging all relevant parties. What we need are not the physical presence of other navies but more cooperation in terms of training, information sharing and other aspects.’’
But others here don’t go all the way with the Indonesian stand. Philips J Vermonte of the Department of International Relations at Jakarta’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) told The Indian Express: ‘‘The Indonesian Navy couldn’t patrol the Strait of Malacca and formed coordinated patrols with Malaysia and Singapore. But it’s quite clear they are not adequately equipped to deal with the situation. To make the strait secure, we have to cooperate with the international community and think of ways of addressing home concerns.’’