Indonesia hails 'new era' for US ties, hosts biggest joint military drills

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington on Aug 3, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesia's Foreign Minister said on Thursday (Aug 5) the nation had entered a "new era of bilateral relations" with the US, as the countries' armed forces launched their biggest-ever joint training exercise this week involving 3,000 troops.

Speaking from Washington after meeting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other officials, Ms Retno Marsudi welcomed more US engagement in the region and expressed high hopes for closer ties with the administration of US President Joe Biden.

A strong strategic partnership with Indonesia - a democratic country and South-east Asia's largest economy - will "provide significant added value for US engagement in the region", the minister told a news conference.

The strategic partnership between the countries spanned trade, investment, security and public health, she said, with the United States announcing this week that it would donate an additional US$30 million (S$40.5 million) in Covid-19 assistance to buy oxygen and medical supplies and to boost Indonesia's vaccine roll-out.

Indonesia has been battling a surge in coronavirus infections since July, recording more than 3.5 million cases and 100,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The US has been seeking to shore up its position in the region to counter the rising influence of China, and Ms Retno's visit to Washington coincided with the countries' biggest-ever joint military exercise.

Indonesia also has good ties with Beijing, and during the pandemic has relied heavily on vaccines from China as part of its national inoculation programme.

Indonesian army Chief of Staff Andika Perkasa and US Army Pacific Commanding General Charles Flynn said on Wednesday that they hoped the joint exercises would boost military capabilities and bilateral relations, according to a statement by the Indonesian military.

The "Garuda Shield" joint exercise is running between Aug 1 and 14, and involves more than 3,000 soldiers.

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