JAKARTA (Jakarta Post/Asia News Network) - For the second time in seven months, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo observed a massive military drill around the resource-rich Natuna Islands, an area where Indonesian maritime authorities have had a number of run-ins with Chinese vessels.
The Natuna waters are partly claimed by China as they are within Beijing's ambiguous ninedash line. The area verges on the South China Sea, where tensions have been up and down for years because of territorial disputes between countries in the region.
Mr Joko, who had returned from China on May 15 after attending the Belt and Road summit, observed the military exercise on Friday (May 19), only a day before he was slated to depart for Saudi Arabia.
Joined by 5,900 troops of the Indonesian Military's (TNI) Quick Response Team, it was larger than the Air Force's Angkasa Yudha exercises, which were held in Natuna last October and involved some 2,000 personnel.
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Mr Joko dubbed the exercise a show of "TNI's preparedness" in maintaining the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI).
"Whether on land, in the sky, or on water, our military force is ready when the nation needs it," Mr Joko said after witnessing a parade by the Army, the Navy and the Air Force in Tanjung Datuk on Bunguran Island, the main island of the Natunas.
The exercise provided emphasis on Jokowi's policy to boost the country's presence in ocean border areas in a bid to safeguard Indonesia's maritime sovereignty, given the historically rampant smuggling and fish poaching.
Friday's show of force included a war simulation involving Indonesian-owned Russian-made Sukhoi and American-made F-16 fighter jets, tanks and warships, as well as parachute landings.
The Army demonstrated dozens of military vehicles and artillery, including the Giant Bow anti-aircraft cannon, one of which misfired with fatal results during a rehearsal on Wednesday.
Four soldiers were killed and eight others injured in the incident, which was caused by a malfunction in the Chinese-made military gear.
"I express condolences over the passing of the four soldiers," Mr Joko told thousands of military personnel after the parade.
The TNI said it was investigating the tragedy.
Mr Joko emphasised the need to keep up with evolving weapons technology.
"Don't be satisfied, because we still have a lot of things to improve, especially when it comes to military equipment."
Several tragedies have happened during military exercises in the last two years, including a series of fatal accidents involving the military's aging aircraft.
"Don't let us be left behind compared to other countries only because we are late adopting advanced technology," Mr Joko said.
The president was accompanied by TNI commander Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo, Air Force chief of staff Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, Navy chief of staff Adm. Ade Supandi, Army chief of staff Gen. Mulyono, Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo and Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung.
Some 23 governors from Sumatra to Papua, such as Riau Islands Governor Nurdin Basirun, Bali Governor I Made Mangku Pastika, North Sulawesi Governor Olly Dondokambey, West Java Governor Ahmad Heryawan and West Papua Governor Dominggus Mandacan, have been on Bunguran since Thursday participating in a string of military exercises.
Before Friday's opening ceremony for the military drill, Gatot symbolically handed black berets to the governors as a sign they had concluded their activities, which consisted of shooting and physical exercises, among others.
Development of Natuna is high on Mr Joko's agenda, with the area having undergone several major uplifts since he rose to power in 2014.
They include the renovation of the Ranai airport on Bunguran Island, which was done as a bid to attract more tourists to a region blessed with beautiful beaches and various unexploited maritime tourist attractions.