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China’s growing influence prompts US-Indonesia military drills

On the Indonesian island of Sumatra, annual combined military drills between US and Indonesian forces began on Wednesday. Soldiers from other alliance countries took part for the first time, demonstrating strengthened ties despite rising Chinese maritime activities in the Indo-Pacific.

This year’s exercises included over 5,000 soldiers from the United States, Indonesia, Australia, Japan, and Singapore, making them the largest since the drills began in 2009. The exercises are intended to improve interoperability, capability, trust, and cooperation in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific, according to a statement from the US Embassy in Jakarta.

‘It’s a symbol of the US-Indonesia bond and the growing relationship between land forces in this critical region,’ said Gen Charles Flynn, Commanding General of US Army Pacific. ‘Because the region’s security architecture is held together by land forces’. Flynn and Indonesia’s Military Chief Gen Andika Perkasa officially began the joint exercises on Wednesday morning in the seaside town of Baturaja in the province of South Sumatra. The army, navy, air force, and marines will continue to train through August 14.

In response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to self-governing Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory and has threatened to annex by force if necessary, China’s Defense Ministry announced Tuesday night that it would conduct a series of targeted military operations to ‘protect national sovereignty’. The two-week drills have already begun.

Furthermore, China has become more adamant in its claim to almost the entire South China Sea. According to US Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the number of interceptions by Chinese aircraft and ships in the Pacific region with US and other partner forces has increased significantly over the last five years, as has the number of unsafe interactions.

‘The message is that the Chinese military, in the air and at sea, has become significantly more aggressive in this particular region,’ Milley said last month during a trip to the Indo-Pacific that included a stop in Indonesia. Milley claims that Indonesia has always been a key US ally and strategic player in the region. Earlier this year, the United States approved a $13.9 billion sale of advanced fighter planes to Indonesia. And, in December of last year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed agreements for expanded joint naval exercises between the United States and Indonesia in Jakarta.

Despite the fact that relations between Indonesia and China are typically cordial, Jakarta has expressed concern about Chinese incursions into its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, which China claims almost entirely. Pelosi arrived in Taiwan late on Tuesday, just in time for the US-Indonesia military drills, as the highest-ranking American official to visit the self-governing island in 25 years. Foreign dignitaries’ visits are seen as confirmation of the island’s sovereignty by Beijing.

According to Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force, which is taking part in the exercises for the first time, the US and other democracies in the region are supported by a ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific vision of security and trade.
China sees the increased drills as a threat. According to Chinese state media, the US has been charged with forming an Indo-Pacific alliance similar to NATO in order to purposefully incite conflict.


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