14 nations will participate in war games

Jakarta: Annual military drills between the Indonesian and US armies will include more than a dozen countries this year, officials said on Sunday, as tensions with China continue to soar in the region.

The joint “Garuda Shield” training will see service members from 14 nations – including the UK, Australia and Japan – take part in ground drills and beach landing drills from August 1-14 in the Indonesian archipelago of southern Sumatra and east of the island of Borneo, according to the Indonesian military.

A US official said around 3,000 troops will take part in the event.

This would make it “the biggest” edition since the creation of Garuda Shield in 2009, Albert Tambunan, spokesman for the Indonesian army, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Sunday.

The expansion of military cooperation this year signals an increase in defense ties between the United States and some Asia-Pacific countries, with tensions erupting in the disputed South China Sea (Western Philippine Sea).

The region adjoins the Flashpoint, a vital waterway that Beijing claims almost in its entirety, and has been a key point of contention between several Southeast Asian countries – including the Philippines – and China in meetings annuals.

But Ian Francis, head of the Office of Defense Cooperation at the US Embassy in Jakarta, called the expansion of war games “a natural decrease in the continued capability of the Indonesian military and its willingness to work more broadly with partners”.

“It really demonstrates that the United States has a growing cooperative security relationship with Indonesia,” he told AFP.

The full list of participating countries has not yet been released.

Total militarization

The announcement comes after a visit to Jakarta last month by Admiral John Aquilino, who heads the Indo-Pacific Command, which oversees all US military activities in the region.

In an interview with The Associated Press last month, Aquilino said China had fully militarized at least three of the Spratly Islands – over which Manila has a claim – in the disputed sea, arming them with anti-ship missile systems. and anti-aircraft, laser and jamming equipment and combat aircraft in an increasingly aggressive move that threatens all nations operating in close proximity.

He added that these hostile actions stood in stark contrast to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s past assurances that Beijing would not turn man-made islands in the disputed waters into military bases.

Beijing denounced the military commander’s remarks, with Chinese ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin saying the deployment of defense installations on the islands and reefs of the Nansha Islands – the name of the East Asian country for Spratleys – was under Chinese sovereignty and had nothing to do with “militarization”.

Indonesia is not officially a claimant in the South China Sea dispute, but tensions trap the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in annual meetings with the Chinese government.

Founded in 1967, the regional bloc is made up of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam.

WITH AP AND GLOBAL TIMES

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