US, Indonesia hold joint military drills amid China concerns
The United States and Indonesian militaries began annual joint combat exercises Wednesday on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, joined for the first time by participants from other partner nations, signalling stronger ties amid growing maritime activity by China in the Indo-Pacific region .
More than 5,000 soldiers from the US, Indonesia, Australia, Japan and Singapore were participating in this year’s exercises, making them the largest since the drills were established in 2009. The exercises are designed to strengthen interoperability, capability, trust and cooperation in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific, the US Embassy in Jakarta said in a statement.
“It’s a symbol of the US-Indonesia bond and the growing relationship between land forces in this consequential region,” Gen Charles Flynn, Commanding General of US Army Pacific, said in the statement. “Because land forces are the glue that binds the region’s security architecture together.”
Flynn and Indonesia’s Military Chief Gen Andika Perkasa opened the joint drills with a ceremony on Wednesday morning in Baturaja, a coastal town in South Sumatra province. The exercises will last until Aug. 14, encompassing army, navy, air force and marine drills.
The planned two-week drills opened after China’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday night it would conduct a series of targeted military operations to “safeguard national sovereignty” in response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to self-governed Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory to be annexed by force if necessary.
While Indonesia and China enjoy generally positive ties, Jakarta has expressed concern about Chinese encroachment on its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety.
The US-Indonesia military exercises coincided with Pelosi’s arrival in Taiwan late Tuesday, as the highest-ranking American official in 25 years to visit the self-ruled island. Beijing views visits by foreign government officials as recognition of the island’s sovereignty.
Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force is participating for the first time in the exercises, saying it promotes a “free and open” Indo-Pacific vision of security and trade with the US and other democracies in the region.