- The US-Indonesia military drills coincided with Pelosi's arrival in Taiwan late Tuesday, making her the highest-ranking American official to visit the self-ruled island in 25 years.
- China views the expanded drills as a threat. Chinese state media have accused the US of forming an Indo-Pacific alliance similar to NATO in order to deliberately incite conflict.
The US and Indonesian militaries began annual joint combat exercises on Sumatra island on Wednesday, joined for the first time by participants from other partner nations, signalling stronger ties amid growing Chinese maritime activity in the Indo-Pacific region.
This year’s exercises drew 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 issued by 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 the US Army Pacific. “Because land forces are the glue that holds the security architecture of the region together.”
Flynn and Indonesia’s Military Chief Gen Andika Perkasa kicked off the joint drills in Baturaja, a coastal town in South Sumatra province, on Wednesday morning. The exercises, which include army, navy, air force, and marine drills, will last until August 14.
The two-week drills began after China’s Defense Ministry announced Tuesday night that it would conduct a series of targeted military operations to “protect national sovereignty” in response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to self-governed Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory and has threatened to annexe by force if necessary.
China has also become more assertive in asserting its claim to virtually the entire South China Sea.
According to US General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the number of intercepts 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, both on land 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.
According to Milley, Indonesia is strategically important to the region and has long been a key US partner. The United States approved a $13.9 billion sale of advanced fighter jets to Indonesia earlier this year. Last December, Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed agreements for increased joint naval exercises between the United States and Indonesia in Jakarta.
While relations between Indonesia and China are generally positive, Jakarta has expressed concern about Chinese encroachment on its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, which China claims virtually entirely.
The US-Indonesia military drills coincided with Pelosi’s arrival in Taiwan late Tuesday, making her the highest-ranking American official to visit the self-ruled island in 25 years. Visits by foreign government officials are viewed as recognition of the island’s sovereignty by Beijing.
Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force is taking part in the exercises for the first time, promoting a “free and open” Indo-Pacific vision of security and trade with the US and other democracies in the region.
China views the expanded drills as a threat. Chinese state media have accused the US of forming an Indo-Pacific alliance similar to NATO in order to deliberately incite conflict.