Investment in Indonesia’s Sabang port will be test of India’s diplomatic wisdom

By Hu Weijia Source:Global Times Published: 2018/5/28 21:18:41

As India and Indonesia are eyeing a strategic investment plan for the Indonesian island of Sabang, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's upcoming visit to the Southeast Asian country is worth noting.

Earlier this month, Indonesia agreed to allow India to invest in the port of Sabang, which is located near the northwestern entrance to the Strait of Malacca. Luhut Pandjaitan, Indonesia's coordinating minister for maritime affairs, was quoted by the Hindustan Times as saying that "the port's 40-meter depth is good for all types of vessels, including submarines." China has always kept a positive attitude toward India's overseas port investment in Southeast Asian countries, a move that could promote regional economic integration, but that doesn't mean China will turn a blind eye to possible military cooperation between India and Indonesia at Sabang. China's heavy use of the Malacca Strait means its economic and energy security is to some extent tied to trade routes across the strait.

If India really seeks military access to the strategic island of Sabang, it might wrongfully entrap itself into a strategic competition with China and eventually burn its own fingers. A misconception by India in terms of outbound investment is that it always sees China as a rival that it pits itself against. But this idea will get India nowhere because China always sees the big picture when seeking investment overseas and aims for reciprocity and mutual benefit.

Sri Lanka's decision to sign a 99-year lease with a Chinese State-owned company for the Hambantota port gave China a trade outpost in the Indian Ocean. China has invested lots of money in ports near the Indian Ocean in a bid to open up new international trade routes connecting Asia with Europe, but none of the ports are being used for military purposes. 

India's investment in Southeast Asian ports is welcome. But if new infrastructure facilities financed by India in those ports are designed for military use, China can take various countermeasures. At the least, Beijing can adopt the same measures in the Indian Ocean.

We believe India is unwilling to face a military race against China. New Delhi's wisdom will be tested if it seeks to increase its presence in the Strait of Malacca but inflate conflicts with other countries, including China. If New Delhi doesn't pass this test, the country will face disastrous consequences.

Modi's words and deeds during his visit to Indonesia will be closely watched. Hopefully, the two countries can steer clear of military cooperation.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.


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