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US and Indonesia Perform Joint Military Exercises as Tensions With China Heighten

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Published: August 4, 2022
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The Indonesian army of new sergeant soldiers prepare before their graduation ceremony following four months of basic training in Banda Aceh on July 27, 2022. (Image: CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP via Getty Images)

On Aug. 3, the U.S. and Indonesia held their annual joint military exercises on the island of Sumatra alongside other countries as tensions with Beijing rose. 

Since 2009, the U.S. and Indonesia have held an annual military training event called Garuda Shield. The series of exercises usually only involves the two nations, but this year the exercises saw the participation of other countries, including Australia and Japan.

According to the U.S. government, Garuda Shield was “designed to strengthen interoperability, capabilities, trust, and cooperation built over decades of shared experiences,” a statement by the U.S. embassy in Indonesia read.

“It’s a symbol of the U.S.-Indonesia bond and the growing relationship between land forces in this consequential region,” Charles Flynn, commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific, said in the statement, adding that, “Because land forces are the glue that binds the region’s security architecture together.”

Opening up the drills were Flynn and Indonesia’s military chief, General Andika Perkasa. The event kicked off with a ceremony in Baturaja, located in South Sumatra. The drills, which are composed of army, navy, air force and marine forces, will continue until August 14.

Approximately 2,000 U.S. soldiers and 2,000 Indonesian Army soldiers, in addition to the armed forces of other participating countries, are said to be taking part in the exercises.

According to Jessica Washington, reporting from Baturaja for al-Jazeera, this year’s drills will be more significant than previous ones.In fact, this year’s drills have been named “Super Garuda Shield”  due to the participation of other countries.

The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force also joined the drills in the hopes of promoting a “free and open” Indo-Pacific vision of security and trade with its allies, including the U.S.

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Beijing assertions grow

The drills came after the CCP-run defense ministry said on Tuesday that Beijing would perform a series of live-fire exercises to “safeguard national sovereignty.” The statement was made after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan — which Beijing continues to claim as part of its own territory.

The CCP has also been intensifying its presence in the South China Sea, which may have necessitated the evolution of Garuda Shield into Super Garuda Shield.

U.S. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that interceptions by Chinese aircraft and ships in the Pacific have intensified over the years, with encounters between Chinese and American forces, and its allies, becoming more frequent.

“The message is the Chinese military, in the air and at sea, have become significantly more and noticeably more aggressive in this particular region,” Milley said last month during a visit to the Indo-Pacific area.

Milley also believes that Indonesia is a strategic location and a key U.S. partner. Earlier this year, the U.S. went through with a $13.9 billion sale of fighter jets to the Southeast Asian nation and last year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed agreements for improved joint naval exercises between the two countries.

While Indonesia and China are on good terms, the former is still cautious regarding Beijing’s intrusion into its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea — another area where the CCP continues to assert claims of control.

Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan — which was viewed as an official recognition of Taiwan’s sovereignty — appears to have coincided with the launch of Super Garuda Shield. However, it has not stopped the CCP from lambasting the drills as a threat, accusing the U.S. of concocting an Indo-Pacific Alliance to “intentionally provoke conflict.”

Initially, Major General Stephen G. Smith, commanding general for the 7th Infantry Division, expressed that the drills should not be treated as “a response to any tensions.”

“This exercise is not a threat or should not be viewed as a threat to anybody, anywhere. This is a purely military-to-military exercise,” he said.