It is recently stated by an Indonesian minister Luhut Pandjaitan that the country has given India economic and military access to the strategic island of Sabang at the northern tip of Sumatra and close to the Malacca Strait. This would lead to development of port and economic zone of Sabang as well as Indian naval ships would be allowed to visit Sabang under the understanding.
It all came out when Pandjaitan made the remarks while speaking on India-Indonesia maritime cooperation at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi. In fact, the Sabang arrangement would “logically follow the Act East policy of the government”.
Also known as Weh island, Sabang is located 710 km southeast of the Andaman Islands and less than 500 km from the entrance of the Malacca Strait. Through this passage, almost 40% of India’s trade passes.
Importance of Malacca Strait
The Malacca Strait is considered one of six narrow channels along widely used global sea routes. In terms of global energy security, they are critical as high volume of oil transported through narrow straits. At least 15 million bpd of oil flows through the Malacca Strait from West Asia and West Africa.
According to a leading newspaper, the two countries have been in talks over developing Sabang since 2014-15, but the plan was not put into action because of concerns over the economic viability of the port. But, Indonesia again thought about Sabang due to China’s interference. The assertiveness of China in the Indo-Pacific region led both governments to again take up the plan in an effort to counter and balance China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative.
Indian PM Narendra Modi is scheduled to travel to Indonesia for a bilateral summit with Indonesian Prime Minister Joko Widodo on 31 May.