Indonesia hosts largest military drills with US, allies amid superpower tensions

Arie Firdaus and Tria Dianti
Indonesia hosts largest military drills with US, allies amid superpower tensions Indonesian, U.S. and Japanese paratroopers conduct an airborne training exercise in Baturaja, Indonesia, Aug. 3, 2022.
U.S. Army Sgt. Nicholle Salvatierra

Indonesia will host its largest annual joint military drills with the United States, Australia and other countries that are set to kick off Thursday amid Sino-U.S. tensions in Asia.   

The 2023 Super Garuda Shield exercise will run for two weeks in East Java province and consist of more than 5,000 Indonesian and U.S. troops, and 1,000 more from Australia, Japan and Singapore as well as new participants France and the United Kingdom. Another 12 nations will send observers.

“This will be the largest. We can learn tactical methods of operation so that our soldiers become more professional,” Rear Adm. Julius Widjojono, the Indonesian military’s spokesman, told BenarNews.

He said the exercises, which run through Sept. 13 in Surabaya and Banyuwangi, aim to enhance the national army’s capabilities and strengthen regional security and cooperation.

This year’s iteration of Super Garuda Shield will involve about 2,000 more troops than last year’s exercise, which had been the largest ever. 

The drills will include academic exchanges and professional development workshops, a command-and-control simulation, an amphibious exercise, airborne operations, an airfield seizure exercise and a combined joint field training that will culminate with a live-fire event, according to the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta.

“This joint, multinational training exercise displays our collective commitment and like-minded unity, allowing for a stable, secure, and more peaceful, free and open Indo-Pacific,” Gen. Charles Flynn, commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific, said in the statement from the embassy. 

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Marines participate in an amphibious exercise on Singkep island, Indonesia, during the 2022 Super Garuda Shield involving U.S. and Indonesian troops, Aug. 3, 2022. [U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Andrew King]

The multi-nation drills will be taking place against the backdrop of tensions between the U.S. and rival super power China over Taiwan and the disputed South China Sea. 

While China claims nearly all of the strategic waterway, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have contending territorial claims.

Indonesia is not a claimant, but tensions have arisen between Jakarta and Beijing over fishing rights around the Natuna Islands. Jakarta has expressed concern over Beijing’s expansive maritime claims that overlap with its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Earlier this week, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman called on the U.S. to stop meddling in the region. He was responding to a reporter’s question about an apparent joint statement from Indonesian and U.S. officials regarding Beijing’s South China Sea claims. Spokesman Wang Wenbin said the Indonesian officials had denied making the statement. 

“Countries in the region share common aspirations and interests to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea and work together for development,” Wang said on Monday

“The U.S. needs to earnestly respect regional countries’ effort to uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea, stop meddling in South China Sea issues, stop sowing discords and creating trouble, and refrain from disrupting peace and stability in the region,” he said.

New Chinese map

Also on Monday, China issued a new map that adds portions of Malaysian waters near Sabah and Sarawak, as well as disputed regions in India, Taiwan and the South China Sea to territory that Beijing claims. The map also covers maritime areas within the exclusive economic zones of Brunei, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The release of the map, published on China’s Ministry of Natural Resources, prompted a diplomatic protest from India, the Associated Press reported. 

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Then-Indonesian military chief Gen. Andika Perkasa (left) and U.S. Indo-Pacific commander Adm. John C. Aquilino arrive to observe a 2022 Super Garuda Shield exercise in South Sumatra province, Aug. 12, 2022. [M. Risyal Hidayat /Antara Foto via Reuters]

Discussing Super Garuda Shield, a researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a think-tank in Singapore, said the increase in troops indicated the importance of defense cooperation for the region, especially in the face of rising geopolitical tensions.

“The joint exercise is also a show of force by INDOPACOM, which is the U.S. military command for the region, to China, besides improving cooperation, readiness and interoperability among the countries involved,” said researcher Fitriani, who goes by one name.

Khairul Fahmi, a military analyst at the Institute for Security and Strategic Studies in Jakarta, said that Indonesia would gain from having more countries participate in Garuda Shield.

“For Indonesia, this joint exercise is beneficial for building trust, reducing fear,” Fahmi told BenarNews. “In terms of military diplomacy, Garuda Shield can also be seen as one of the means to realize national interests in defense and security. Its role is strategic in dealing with existing problems.”

The exercise begins as regional leaders, including those from the U.S. and China, are scheduled to meet in Jakarta next week for the East Asia Summit, a forum on strategic, political and economic issues in the region. U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to attend the summit, while Beijing has not revealed who will represent China, according to Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.


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