It was just seven months ago that Sidharto Suryodipuro presented his credentials to President Ram Nath Kovind as Indonesia’s Ambassador to India. Prior to that, he served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Indonesia in Washington DC between 2014 and 2017. As Director for Intra-Regional Cooperation in Asia Pacific and Africa, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2010-14), he managed the policy development and implementation of Indonesia’s participation in or engagement with regional organisations in Asia Pacific the and Africa and the Indian and Pacific Oceans, on a broad range of political, economic and development issues. As Deputy Senior Official of Indonesia in the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), he led the team in 2014 that laid the strategic foundation for Indonesia’s chairmanship of the Association in 2015-17.
During Indonesia’s APEC host year in 2013, he served as secretary of policy development of the National Committee of APEC, Indonesia, 2013, and chaired APEC’s drafting of the Bali Summit outcome documents. His other overseas assignment included Indonesia’s Mission to the United Nations in New York in 1996-2000 and during Indonesia’s term in the UN Security Council in 2007-08. In the period between 2000 and 2004, Sidharto Suryodipuro managed the desk and then sub-directorate of ASEAN political-security issues. In a conversation with Rakesh Kumar, the Ambassador talked about the relationship between India and Indonesia, how it can be improved and their stand on India’s United Nation Security Council membership.
How do you look at relations between India and Indonesia?
The relationship is long-standing. Indonesia is familiar with India for a long time. We have a strong and extremely good foundation to build on. There is no fear on both sides and there are and so many positive and optimistic feelings. So, we work across the board. I have been here for more than seven months. Even during this short period of time I have seen relationship really accelerating and intensifying. There is a crescendo at the political level of various meetings at ministerial and leaders’ levels. And I am quite optimistic this will continue throughout 2018.
What is the status of business ties between the two countries?
Last year we saw a jump in bilateral trade. And we welcome it. We continue to work to diversify trade. We work to strengthen investment both ways. We want to see Indian investment in Indonesia go beyond natural resources or sectors like metals and agriculture into more value-added sectors. IT, one of the sectors where India has an edge, we would like to see more of that. In terms of tourism, Indian visitors to Indonesia saw a hearty growth; it was almost 30 per cent last year.
Close to half a million Indians visited Indonesia last year. I must admit that the number of Indonesians visiting India has been disappointing ~ it was close to 40,000. So, we have a lot of homework to do. Therefore, we need more air connectivity. Already Indonesian carriers are flying to India (direct flights) but we are yet to see any direct flight by Indian carriers. Even though Indonesia is a very prospective market, this may be something Indian carriers are not aware of. They should be.
What is the current status of defence ties between India and Indonesia?
I look at it at two levels: first is defence cooperation ~ we have military-to-military cooperation but the longest-standing one will be navy-to-navy. For more than 12 years, every year, twice in the year, we have a coordinated patrol called India-Indonesia Coordinated Patrol because we are maritime neighbours. The waters of Andaman Nicobar and the waters of Sumatara are bordering. It is only 18 nautical miles between them. In fact, one Cordinated Patrol will take place very soon.
We have also started talking about business related to defence because we use similar aircraft like Sukhoi aircraft. Since India is more advanced, whether repair or maintenance of Indonesian Sukhois, they can be done in India. Already some exchange and talks are taking place.
How do you see India’s role in ASEAN?
We just celebrated 25 years of India-ASEAN partnership. The point I would like to make is, when we celebrate 25 years, we are not only celebrating the number of years of this partnership. This is not only an exercise in accumulating numbers, we are also celebrating the change that has taken place.
The change that has taken place in India in the past 25 years and the change that has taken place in ASEAN in the past 25 years. And the fact is, this relationship over those years ~ years of changes ~ have, in fact, strengthened our relationship. This is what we celebrate. And we also celebrate that we developed a common view for our shared future.
We have a good foundation to talk about the challenges that we face together, like globalisation. At the same time, we also have a rise of radicalism, nationalistic tendency and identity politics. We have the challenges of climate change and population problems. These challenges are serious existential threats.
These days China has been showing aggressive posturing in the South China Sea region. What is your take on it?
The view of Indonesia is clear. The law of sea has to take its primacy. South East Asia and the Indo Pacific Region is a maritime region and as a maritime region, we have to ensure everybody will support rights of law of navigation. This is something very crucial, especially for Indonesia that lies between the two oceans. And I believe all of us should support it.
What is the current status of connectivity between India and Indonesia and how do you rate it?
I would say average. A lot of connectivity is still going through other places like Singapore, Malaysia or Thailand, which is also good. But if we have direct connectivity, it will be cheaper and save more time.
What is the current scenario of tourism opportunity in Indonesia? And how are you promoting Bali as a preferred tourist destination for Indians?
Indonesia has something different to offer. And we don’t look ourselves in competition with any of the other destinations. I believe Bali is a very strong brand in India already. Every Indian I meet, almost every Indian if not all, either they know Bali or they want to go Bali or they have been to Bali or somebody is getting married in Bali. It means everybody knows Bali. Other parts of Indonesia may be a bit alien. For instance, Yogyakarta, which houses the tallest Hindu temple in the world.
Does Indonesia support India’s candidature for a permanent seat on a reformed UN Security Council?
Our position since the beginning of this exercise, more than 20 years ago, has always been that we should not talk about a particular candidate. We should talk about the criteria. This is what the methodology for discussion should be. This is not to say we support or do not support a particular country.
Any other important visit pending?
Any important visit will be announced in due course. I am not going to make surprise announcements this evening.