US, China Hold Separate Military Drills in South-East Asia
Story Code : 1009201
China dispatched fighter jets to Thailand on Sunday in a joint air force exercise called Falcon Strike 2022 that Beijing’s defense ministry said would “enhance mutual trust and friendship”, The Financial Times reported.
The Thailand exercises coincided with the conclusion of two weeks of war games between the US and Indonesia, marking the largest version of the annual Garuda Shield live-fire drills since starting in 2009. Japan, Australia and Singapore also joined for the first time.
The drills in south-east Asia come as tension between Beijing and Washington in the region is rising. US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August aggravated China, which claims the territory as its own.
The speaker’s trip prompted a series of intimidation tactics from the Chinese military, including live-fire drills and the closure of blocs of water and airspace around Taiwan in what analysts said was a simulation of a blockade.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations called for “maximum restraint” in a statement that avoided referring to Taiwan by name and said it was “ready to play a constructive role in facilitating peaceful dialogue”.
The US has historical strong alliances in south-east Asia and a military presence, though China’s economic influence over the region has grown dramatically in recent years.
Beijing’s territorial disputes with a number of member states in the South China Sea have put several regional governments on edge.
Analysts said that the region would continue to be a source of rivalry between the US and China.
Indonesia’s leader Joko Widodo made a rare trip to China in July to meet president Xi Jinping, one of the few foreign heads of state to do so since the start of the pandemic. Jokowi, as he is known, is hosting the Group of 20 summit in Bali in November and has invited both Xi and US president Joe Biden.
Indonesia’s Panglima, or military commander, General Andika Perkasa, was educated in the US. He is “as friendly as commander-in-chief as the US is likely to get in Indonesia”, said Aaron Connelly, senior fellow for south-east Asian politics and foreign policy at the IISS think-tank.
But the general will hit retirement age this year, he added. “So this is a window of opportunity for the US to deepen their relationship (with Indonesia’s military), but probably not a trend line which we can expect to see continue.”
Huynh Tam Sang, an international relations lecturer at Vietnam National University, said: “Washington and Beijing may step up naval exercises in the region to forge strategic deterrence and woo small and medium-sized countries in the Indo-Pacific”.