US, Indonesia set to hold largest joint military exercise in South Sumatra next month

Indonesian General Andika Perkasa (left) with General Mark A. Milley, US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Jakarta on July 24, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA - Indonesia and the United States are set to hold their largest military exercises in August, dispelling worries about a rift in their relationship over China's growing investments in the South-east Asian country.

Indo-Pacific nations in the Indian and Pacific Oceans have had to navigate increasing hostility between China and the US, as both superpowers stepped up diplomatic overtures in the geopolitically important region.

Indonesia has maintained neutrality amid the rivalry, reflecting its long-held "independent and active" foreign policy ideology.

During a one-day visit to Jakarta on Sunday (July 24), General Mark A. Milley, US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the planned exercises - slated for Aug 1 to 14 - will involve more than 4,000 troops from both the army and naval forces.

"It's important that we just bond and train together, get to know each other as militaries. That's always a very valuable thing to do," said Gen Milley, in a joint press conference at Indonesia's military headquarters. The exercises will be conducted in Baturaja, South Sumatra province.

He added that the exercises will practise interoperability, tactics techniques and procedures.

Indonesian General Andika Perkasa said the upcoming Garuda Shield 2022 - the 16th edition of the war games - will involve seven Apache and four Blackhawk helicopters, 41 armoured vehicles and 618 weapons.

Japan, Australia and Singapore have been invited to join the exercise, while nine others will participate as observers, Gen Milley said. These include Malaysia, Canada, Australia, France and Britain.

The general said the US, as a Pacific power, very strongly believes in a free and open Pacific and it knows Indonesia also thinks the same way.

"We will be here. We will offer support to Indonesia and contribute to the region in any way that we can. And we look forward to continuing our relationship in the future.

"As you all know, well over two-thirds of international commerce comes through the Pacific region, and most of that comes through the waterway, byways, in the sea lines of communications that sit astride," he added.

Gen Milley called on Indonesia on his way to the 24th annual Indo-Pacific Chiefs of Defence conference in Sydney, which takes place from July 25 to 27. The conference is focusing on climate change and security implications as countries strive to create a more open, inclusive and resilient region.

His visit came a day before Indonesian President Joko Widodo departed for China, Japan and South Korea to discuss trade and investment in the health, infrastructure and fishery sectors.

China has poured increasingly more money into Indonesia during Mr Widodo's administration. Its annual foreign direct investment hit about US$4 billion (S$5.5 billion) in the past three years through 2021, where this had usually been below US$3 billion.

Its ventures range from building a multi-billion dollar nickel smelter facility in Morowali, Central Sulawesi, to building Indonesia's first high-speed train that will link the capital Jakarta to the third-largest city of Bandung, with trials set to begin in November.

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