Indonesia announces ‘new era of bilateral relations’ with US as pair kick off largest-ever joint military training

Indonesia’s foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, has announced a “new era of bilateral relations” with the US, as the two countries host a joint training exercise involving more than 3,000 soldiers.

Announcing an improved partnership between the two nations on Thursday, Marsudi praised America for increasing its support in the Indo-Pacific region, indicating a willingness to build greater ties with President Joe Biden’s administration.

The comments came after her meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. According to the US State Department, the officials discussed their countries working more closely together on security and public health issues, as well as increasing bilateral trade and investment.

“As a democratic country and Southeast Asia’s largest economy, a strong strategic partnership with Indonesia will provide significant added value for US engagement in the region,” Marsudi told reporters after the high-level meeting.

The apparent willingness to expand Indonesia-US relations comes after the Biden administration unveiled an additional $30 million Covid assistance package for the island nation, providing oxygen and other medical supplies as well as aiding the country’s Covid vaccine rollout. Indonesia has been struggling to battle soaring Covid cases since July, and has registered 3.5 million cases and 100,000 fatalities since the pandemic began.

‘Garuda Shield’, the military exercise involving the US and Indonesia, is the largest joint training operation the two have engaged in together to date, officials said. Taking place for 10 days starting August 4, it involves military drills at Indonesian sites including the Baturaja Training Area, Amborawang and Makalisung.

The US move to strengthen ties with Indonesia also comes during heightened tensions in the Indo-Pacific region, including the South China Sea, where Western nations and their allies in the area have criticized China over Beijing’s territorial claims. While the West and its regional partners argue that China has no right to claims in the South China Sea, Beijing argues that it has sovereignty in the area due to its historical ‘nine-dash line’ demarcation.

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