Indonesia goes ahead with massive drills near South China Sea
KONFRONTASI - Indonesian Air Force has intensified its military exercises near areas claimed by China in the South China Sea, sending a signal to Beijing about Jakarta’s full sovereignty over outer islands.
On Wednesday, about 70 jets carried out maneuvers that included a dog fight and dropping bombs on targets off the coast of the Natuna Islands.
President Joko Widodo, along with hundreds of military officials, watched the action from Ranai, the capital of the Natuna Islands.
The commander of the Indonesian National Armed Forces, Gatot Nurmantyo, said the drills were meant to beef up security around the Natuna Islands.
“The president has a policy that all the outer islands that are strategic will be strengthened, be it air, maritime or land,” Nurmantyo said, adding, “Our country needs to have an umbrella. From corner to corner, we have to safeguard it.”
The drills come amid disputes between China and Indonesia over the Natuna Islands. China claims almost the entire South China Sea, where countries like Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the sea.
Indonesia has tried to act as a mediator between Beijing and those countries, while it has also been stuck in a separate dispute with China.
Indonesia opposes Beijing’s inclusion of waters around the Natuna Islands within its 'nine-dash line', a demarcation line used by China to show its claims there.
The drills also come at a time of increasing uncertainty in the region as the Philippines, led by an outspoken president, has decided to end its annual drills with the United States and tilt toward China.
Indonesia’s major military exercise could mean that Jakarta is distancing from its old wobbliness in disputes over the sea and is taking a more expressive stance vis-à-vis China’s rise in the sea.[ptv]