India, Indonesia and the China Factor Often in diplomacy what is not said or written is more important than what is being said or written. This should be the yardstick in examining bilateral relations between any two powers in the world. The current India-Indonesian engagement, capped by the about-to-be-concluded bilateral visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Indonesia, his first, is no different. The 2640-word Joint Statement on India-Indonesia Strategic Partnership (in place since November 2005), released after Singhâ€™s talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on 11 October needs to be examined on what the two leaders did not say. Well, there is just one thing that the two leaders did not put a name to though it is unimaginable that they would not have discussed this â€“ the China factor. In the entire Joint Statement, released after Singh-Yudhoyono talks in Jakarta on 11 October, the two sides refrained from using the C word. They also did not mention the South China Sea issue, though it is on the forefront of the two nationsâ€™ international agenda, more so with Indonesia. The reason is obvious. Indonesia is not Vietnam or Philippines, the two nations who are most vocal about their trepidations with regard to Chinaâ€™s South China Sea diplomacy which Beijing embarked upon in 2009. Though Indonesia is as much concerned about the China factor in its diplomatic engagements with the rest of the world, it has been treading a cautious line and not exhibiting bellicose diplomacy with regard to China. China has a sizable presence in Southeast Asia with more than 50 million of ethnic Chinese accounting for ten percent of the regionâ€™s population. Though in the context of Indonesia, ethnic Chinese account for only about 3% of Indonesiaâ€™s population, but their disproportionate wealth is strongly resented by other citizens, as rightly argued by the BBCâ€™s Chinese Affairs analyst, James Miles. As much as two thirds of retail trade in Southeast Asia is controlled by ethnic Chinese; and Indonesia is no exception to this trend. However, the China factor is much more important than matters of ethnicity, monetary power and trade etc. In context of Indonesia, the Chinese recent policies on South China Sea regionâ€™s territorial claims takes a far higher position in the Indonesian strategic thought â€“ and justifiably so. India is one country with which Indonesia has rapidly deepened its bilateral cooperation with in diverse areas, particularly defence. Indonesia, the 16th ranking economy in the world with a nominal GDP worth almost a trillion dollars, is an emerging economy considered so important that the world is talking about expanding BRICS into BRIICS, with the second â€œIâ€ denoting Indonesia. Indonesia is the nearest neighbouring country from Andaman and Nicobar Islands, nearer than even mainland India. Indonesia is the largest and the most influential country of the ten-member ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) which is so vital for Indiaâ€™s Look East policy. Now let us talk about those points which were said and put on record by the two sides after the Singh-Yudhoyono talks. The first point that needs to be mentioned upfront is that India and Indonesia have agreed to hold annual summits, including on the margins of multilateral events. This is a giant leap forward in bilateral relations between New Delhi and Jakarta. There are only two nations thus far with which India has an institutionalized mechanism of holding annual summits â€“ Russia and Japan, in that chronological order. However, the India-Indonesia bilateral relations still have some way to go to reach the depth, maturity and substance that is visible in Indiaâ€™s bilateral engagement with Russia and Japan. That is because Singh and Yudhoyono agreed to holding annual summits but not in each otherâ€™s capitals as is the practice with Russia and Japan. The Joint Statement makes it clear that the annual summits can be held even at multilateral events in third countries. This means that Indonesia is still not there as prominently on the Indian strategic calculus as Russia and Japan are, though India-Indonesia bilateral trade is over $ 20 billion, almost as much as India-Japan trade and nearly double than the current India-Russia trade. But then it is just the beginning of a deeper and more substantive engagement between New Delhi and Jakarta. Sample the decisions by the two heads of governments as reflected in the Joint Statement. They stressed the importance of continuing regular bilateral consultations through the robust architecture of dialogue in place, including the ministerial and working group mechanisms. They agreed to hold the Joint Commission Meeting on an annual basis. They directed the two foreign ministries to continue to hold regular consultations on bilateral, regional, multilateral and international issues and to coordinate cooperation activities. Overall, India and Indonesia agreed to intensify cooperation in such vital areas as defence, space, nuclear energy, agriculture and transportation. If China is missing from the two leadersâ€™ open statements, it is because it is intended to be so â€“ a covert diplomacy till the two sides explore each other. It does not mean that the two sides are afraid of China. A more reasonable way of looking at it would be that the two sides are still trying to discover each other, know each otherâ€™s positions and intentions and leave a more pronounced joint position for an appropriate time in the future.