The US and Indonesian militaries were joined by partner nations for the first time as they began nearly two week long drills on Sumatra Island and the Riau islands in Indonesia.
The planned drills opened after China´s Defense Ministry said Tuesday night it would conduct a series of targeted military operations to ‘safeguard national sovereignty’ in response to U.S.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi´s visit to self-governed Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory to be annexed by force if necessary.
China has also been increasingly assertive over its claim to virtually the entire South China Sea.
Thanks to Taiwan’s high levels of production of microchips, there are worries that the Chinese military could create a crisis by cutting off the island from the world’s supply chain.
Pelosi is thought to be leaving Taiwan on Wednesday.
While Indonesia and China enjoy generally positive ties, Jakarta has expressed concern about Chinese encroachment on its exclusive economic zone in the area, which China claims virtually in its entirety.
In total, more than 5,000 troops from the US, Indonesia, Australia, Japan and Singapore, will participate in the drills. It will be the largest drill since the annual joint-exercise began in 2009.
The drills are officially known as the ‘Super Garuda Shields.’
Japan´s Ground Self-Defense Force is participating for the first time in the exercises, saying it promotes a ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific vision of security and trade with the U.S. and other democracies in the region.
The expanded drills are seen by China as a threat. Chinese state media have accused the U.S. of building an Indo-Pacific alliance, similar to NATO, as a means to intentionally provoke conflict.
The exercises are designed to strengthen technology, capability, trust and cooperation in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific, the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta said in a statement.
Gen. Charles Flynn, Commanding General of U.S. Army Pacific said of the drills Its a symbol of the U.S.-Indonesia bond and the growing relationship between land forces in this consequential region.
The general added: ‘Because land forces are the glue that binds the regions security architecture together.
Flynn and Indonesia’s Military Chief Gen. Andika Perkasa opened the joint drills with a ceremony on Wednesday morning in Baturaja, a coastal town in South Sumatra province.
Major General Stephen Smith, commander of the participating US troops, told the media last Friday: ‘This is really an exercise to build trust, build togetherness, mutual understanding, increase capability and other related matters.’
He continued: ‘So this is really a military exercise and not a threat to any party.’
The exercises will last until Aug. 14, encompassing army, navy, air force and marine drills.
U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the number of intercepts by Chinese aircraft and ships in the Pacific region with U.S. and other partner forces has increased significantly over the past five years, and the number of unsafe interactions has risen by similar proportions.
‘The message is the Chinese military, in the air and at sea, have become significantly more and noticeably more aggressive in this particular region,’ Milley said last month during a trip to the Indo-Pacific that included a stop in Indonesia.
Milley said Indonesia is strategically critical to the region and has long been a key U.S. partner.
Earlier this year, the U.S approved a $13.9 billion sale of advanced fighter jets to Indonesia.
And in Jakarta last December, Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed agreements for enhanced joint naval exercises between the U.S. and Indonesia.