Joint US-Indonesian war games will expand to 14 countries as tensions simmer in the Indo-Pacific

Troops from the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Canada will be among those joining Garuda Shield 2022 exercises from Aug. 1-14, the military said. The 16th edition of the war games will include live-fire exercises, special operations and aviation components, among other disciplines, he added.

The expansion of the drills comes at a time of simmering tension in the region, with analysts saying the move signals Indonesia has moved closer to the United States than China on military cooperation.

Last year’s Garuda Shield involved two divisions of the US Army – around 1,000 soldiers – along with their Indonesian counterparts in what the US military said was the biggest edition of war games to date.

“The two-week joint exercise Garuda Shield continues to solidify the major defense partnership between the United States and Indonesia and advances cooperation toward a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” a statement said. of the U.S. Army ahead of exercises last year.

Indonesia did not give an estimate of the number of troops from each of the 14 countries that would participate in this year’s Garuda Shield.

The US military and the US Embassy in Jakarta had no immediate comment on the drills.

South China Sea disputes

Indonesia is located on the southern edges of the South China Sea, which has been a hotbed of military activity in recent years as China has militarized disputed islands there and the United States and its partners have disputed these assertions.
In March, the Chinese tabloid Global Times accused US Admiral John Aquilino, head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, of trying to copy the Ukraine crisis in the Asia-Pacific region, rallying allies, partners and other countries in the region. to face China.

The Global Times comments came after Aquilino took journalists on a flight over the South China Sea to highlight Beijing’s militarization of the disputed islands.

Analysts say Indonesia has long tried to avoid taking sides in the US-China dispute in the South China Sea.
But they note that over the past year, Beijing has been asserting its claims near the Natuna Islands in an area inside Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone, but also inside the ” China’s nine-dash line, under which Beijing claims control of most of the South. China Sea.
Colonel Frega Wenas Inkiriwang, commander of the North Jakarta Military District and a lecturer at the Indonesian Defense University, said China’s current behavior increases the risk of conflict in the region as nations strengthen their military presence, including Indonesia, which has reinforced its forces around the Natuna. He is.

But don’t expect Jakarta to call Beijing directly, said Collin Koh, a researcher at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

Indonesia “may avoid megaphone diplomacy and confront … China directly on South China Sea issues, but it will take actions that will subtly signal to Beijing – and the domestic public – its desire to safeguard its national interests, “Ko said.

He called the expansion of Garuda Shield war games “particularly noteworthy” because “Indonesia is always careful when it comes to pointing out sensitivities surrounding South China Sea issues” and its ties to the United States and China.

“It is clear that Indonesia wants to engage in an external balance in the South China Sea, while using it as a platform to project its stature and influence in terms of multilateral defense diplomacy,” Koh said. .

Frega noted that Indonesia and China once held joint military drills called “Sharp Knife,” but the latest iteration of those was in 2014.

Now, he said, in terms of military cooperation, Indonesia is clearly closer to the United States than to China.

Frega also said that Indonesia has long had close military ties with Japan and Australia, so their inclusion in Garuda Shield 2022 should come as no surprise.

But, he added, given that Japan and Australia, like the United States, have been highly critical of China’s actions in the South China Sea, one would expect that the news of the August exercises is “unwelcome” in Beijing.

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