Indonesian Navy to conduct exercises in the South China Sea

Indonesia’s Navy will today conduct exercises in the vicinity of the Riau Islands. The comprehensive exercises, which will involve forces

Indonesian ships during naval exercises with Singapore

Photo: MINDEF Singapore

Indonesia’s Navy will today conduct exercises in the vicinity of the Riau Islands.

The comprehensive exercises, which will involve forces from the Navy’s Western Fleet, Military Naval Command, Marine Corps, and Naval Aviation, will test anti-air, anti-submarine, surface, special forces and amphibious landing capabilities.

The exercises coincide with rising tensions between the US, China and Southeast Asian claimants to territory in the South China Sea. Consistent Chinese fishing incursions into the 200-mile exclusive economic zone surrounding the Natunas island group—an Indonesian archipelago especially rich in oil, natural gas and fish—have boosted the rationale for the increased military infrastructural development, as regional Indonesian maritime bases are currently few and far between. The US has challenged China’s assertion of its expanded territorial claims; earlier this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and China’s Foreign Ministry traded accusations of unlawful development and fearmongering intended to exacerbate rifts between Beijing and its ASEAN neighbours, respectively.

Until now, Indonesia and its fellow ASEAN members have been reluctant to confront China individually (for fear of economic and possibly military retribution) and have found little success in leveraging regional frameworks to deter Chinese maritime expansion. If the US continues to adopt a hawkish foreign policy and provide more concrete support against China’s expansionist tactics, ASEAN states could be more receptive to hardline deterrence measures and even military confrontation. Washington could strength its opposition to China’s maritime activities with sanctions against Chinese energy companies in the short-term.

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