The US and China showed their military might in Indonesia and Thailand by holding war games over the weekend, as the rival superpowers worked to strengthen their influence in Southeast Asia.
China sent 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 Thailand exercises coincided with the conclusion of two weeks of war games between the United States and Indonesia, marking the largest version of the annual Garuda Shield live-fire drills since they began in 2009. Japan, Australia and Singapore also they joined it for the first time.
The drills in Southeast Asia come as tension between Beijing and Washington in the region rises. 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 by the Chinese military, including live-fire drills and the closing of water and airspace blocks around Taiwan in what analysts said was a simulation of a deadlock.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations called for “maximum restraint” in a statement which avoided referring to Taiwan by name and said it was “ready to play a constructive role in facilitating peaceful dialogue.”
The US has historically strong alliances in Southeast Asia and a military presence, although China’s economic influence in the region has grown dramatically in recent years.
Beijing’s territorial disputes with several member states in the South China Sea have sidelined several regional governments.
Analysts said the region would continue to be a source of rivalry between the US and China.
Indonesian leader Joko Widodo made a rare trip to China in July to meet with 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 a commander-in-chief as the United States is likely to have in Indonesia,” said Aaron Connelly, senior fellow for politics and foreign policy for Southeast Asia at the IISS think tank.
But the general will reach retirement age this year, he added. “So it’s a window of opportunity for the United States to deepen its relationship [with Indonesia’s military]but it’s probably not a trend line we can expect to continue.”
Huynh Tam Sang, a professor of international relations at Vietnam National University, said: “Washington and Beijing can step up naval exercises in the region to forge a strategic deterrent and attract small and medium-sized countries in the Indo-Pacific.”