US, Indonesia and Australia hold drills amid China concerns


BATURAJA, Indonesia (AP) — Soldiers from the United States, Indonesia and Australia participated in a live-fire exercise on Friday, part of annual joint combat exercises on the island of Sumatra amid increasing Chinese maritime activity in the Indo-Pacific region.

A total of more than 5,000 people from the United States, Indonesia, Australia, Japan and Singapore are taking part in this year’s Super Garuda Shield exercises, making them the largest since their launch in 2009.

The expanded exercises are seen by China as a threat. Chinese state media have accused the United States of building a NATO-like Indo-Pacific alliance to limit China’s growing military and diplomatic influence in the region.

The United Kingdom, Canada, France, India, Malaysia, South Korea, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and East Timor also sent observers to the exercises, which began in beginning of this month.

US Indo-Pacific Commander Admiral John C. Aquilino said the 14 nations involved in the training are signaling their stronger ties as China increasingly asserts itself by claiming near- whole of the South China Sea and organizes exercises threatening autonomous Taiwan.

“Destabilizing actions by the People’s Republic of China as they apply to threatening activities and actions against Taiwan are exactly what we are trying to avoid,” he said at a joint press conference with Indonesian military leader General Andika Perkasa in Baturaja, a coastal town in the South Sumatra province.

“We will continue to help provide a free and open Indo-Pacific and be ready when we need to respond to any eventuality,” Aquilino said.

Indonesia and China enjoy generally positive relations, but Jakarta has expressed concern about what it sees as Chinese encroachment into its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.

Despite its official stance as a non-claimant state in the disputed South China Sea, Indonesia has been ‘swept up’ in the territorial dispute since 2010 after China claimed part of Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone. in the northern region of the Natuna Islands, Connie said. Rahakundini Bakrie, security analyst at the University of Indonesia.

The edge of the exclusive economic zone overlaps Beijing’s unilaterally declared “nine-dash line” delimiting its claims in the South China Sea.

The increased activity of Chinese coast guard vessels and fishing boats in the area has baffled Jakarta, prompting the Indonesian Navy to conduct a major exercise in July 2020 in the waters around Natuna in the southern part of the sea. from southern China.

Indonesia sees the current exercises with the United States as a deterrent to the defense of the Natuna Islands, while for Washington, the exercises are part of efforts to forge a united front against China’s military buildup in the South China Sea, Bakrie said.

“Indonesia wants to send the message that it is fully prepared for any high-intensity conflict in the South China Sea region,” she said.

Joint combat exercises end on Sunday.

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Karmini reported from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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