The United States and China showed their military might in Indonesia and Thailand by staging war games over the weekend as rival superpowers scrambled to bolster their influence in Southeast Asia.
China sent fighter jets to Thailand on Sunday as part of a joint air force exercise called Falcon Strike 2022 which Beijing’s Defense Ministry said would “enhance mutual trust and friendship”.
The exercises in Thailand 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 exercises since the start of 2009. Japan, the Australia and Singapore also joined for the first time.
The exercises in Southeast Asia come as tension between Beijing and Washington in the region increases. The visit of US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in August aggravated China, which claims the territory as its own.
The speaker’s trip sparked a series of intimidation tactics from the Chinese military, including live-fire drills and the closure of water blocks and airspace around Taiwan in what the analysts called it a simulated 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 facilitate peaceful dialogue”.
The United States has strong historic alliances in Southeast Asia and a military presence, although China’s economic influence in the region has grown significantly in recent years.
Beijing’s territorial disputes with a number of South China Sea member states have put several regional governments on edge.
Analysts said the region will continue to be a source of rivalry between the United States and China.
Indonesian 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 G20 summit in Bali in November and has invited Xi and US President Joe Biden.
indonesia Panglima, or military commander, General Andika Perkasa was educated in the United States. He is “as friendly a commander-in-chief as the United States is likely to be in Indonesia,” said Aaron Connelly, senior fellow for Southeast Asia politics and foreign policy at the IISS think tank.
But the general will reach retirement age this year, he added. “So this is a window of opportunity for the United States to deepen our relationship. [with Indonesia’s military]but probably not a trend line that we can expect to see continue.
Huynh Tam Sang, senior lecturer in international relations at Vietnam National University, said: “Washington and Beijing could step up naval exercises in the region to forge strategic deterrence and woo small and medium-sized countries in the Indo- Peaceful”.