Indian warship refuels at Indonesian port, New Delhi sends tacit message to Beijing
In a first, Indian warship INS Sumitra, designed to carry out fleet support operations, patrolling, surveillance and monitoring of sea lines of communications and offshore assets, was refurbished and replenished at the strategically located Indonesian port of Sabang.
Indonesia permitted India to invest in and develop the Sabang port, which is located near the strategic and vital shipping channel - the Strait of Malacca.
The Strait of Malacca is natural choke point and crucial sea-lane for China through which almost all trade and energy flows from west to east and vice-versa.
INS Sumitra sailed from Port Blair and is visiting Sabang for routine operational turnaround. It will be taking in provisions and fuel before going for further deployment in the Indian Ocean.
INS Sumitra has 17 officers and 129 sailors on board. From Sabang INS Sumitra will be sailing on to patrol the Malacca straits. To counter an aggressive China in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) the Indian Navy has started "mission-based" deployments to monitor and keep vigil on the strategically important areas in the IOR.
"Using facilities at Sabang Port will be a regular feature in our deployment plans," top Defence Ministry officials said.
Earlier in May 2018, PM Modi visited Indonesia wherein the two countries had agreed on "Shared Vision on Maritime Cooperation in Indo-Pacific" region.
Importantly it calls for a "free", "open", "transparent", "rules-based" and peaceful Indo-Pacific region when Beijing is increasingly flexing its muscles in the East and South China Sea. The first of kind cooperation between an ASEAN country and India outlines cooperation in the sea and also outlines security infrastructure for mutual benefit.
Although Indonesia isn't directly involved the South China sea dispute with China, but the controversial Nine-dash-line -- a virtual line quoted by the China to claim its territory in the area -- overlaps with Indonesia's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) especially around the resource-rich Natuna Island.
Recently, Indonesia renamed part of the Northern reaches of its EEZ as North Natuna Sea. The move has drawn angry protest from China.
The decision to engage Indonesia, invest and develop the crucial Sabang Port, sending its warship for refurbishments and refueling is all part of New Delhi's message to Beijing that India can challenge China in unexpected areas.
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