31 Juli 2022

Jakarta, IO – A visit of the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A Milley with TNI Commander General Andika has inevitably raised broader geopolitical dimensions.

How could this not be so? The meeting was held at a moment when China aggressively intercepted a western air patrol in the South China Sea (SCS).

Australia and Canada accused China of dangerously intercepting a maritime patrol aircraft in early June 2022, while conducting routine sanctions surveillance and monitoring missions in the East and South China Seas.

Australia reported that a Royal Australian Air Force P-8A Poseidon was intercepted by a Chinese Air Force Shenyang J-16 fighter over the South China Sea while the Poseidon was conducting a “routine maritime surveillance” mission on May 26.

The western media reported at least 60 interceptions toward the Canadian P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft over international waters by Chinese fighter jets since December 2021.

Over two dozen Chinese fighter jets’ maneuvers were deemed dangerous by Canada. The crew of the CP-140 reported that the Chinese jets were close enough that crew members could “make an eye contact with the Chinese pilots, with them sometimes raising their middle fingers.”

The heated situation shows a strong desire to gain hegemony in the South China Sea, both by the People’s Republic of China and the Western Allies.

The meaning of the US Joint Chiefs Commander visit – first in the last 14 years

The US and its Western allies have undeniably accomplished a great deal with the visit. As the most extensive and densely-populated country in ASEAN, Indonesia holds great significance for the US, over influence of the South China Sea.

The US is at least a step closer to feeling assured that Indonesia will not be in China’s stronghold amid the US-China rivalry to attain hegemony over the South China Sea. China and the ASEAN countries have been claiming the islands and various zones of the South China Sea for decades.

China is reportedly funding and building a new naval base in Ream, Cambodia. According to Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Wang Wentian, the base will strengthen partnerships between the two countries, including helping to modernize the Cambodian Navy.

Ream Naval Base in Cambodia directly overlooks the Gulf of Thailand, a passage from the South China Sea (SCS) disputed by Beijing and several ASEAN countries. China claims up to 90 percent of the South China Sea as its territory within its “Nine-Dash Line.”

China’s claim has been keeping claimant countries in tension: Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei are known to have close relations with the US, with the Philippines holding the most extensive US base in ASEAN.

Chinese troops in Ream, Cambodia pose a significant risk to world maritime trade, since the South China Sea accounts for nearly 70 percent of maritime trade worldwide.

Therefore, the SCS has inevitably become a bone of contention between China and the US, in their struggle to be the world’s dominant country in the economy, defense and security

How does Indonesia act in this scenario?

To balance the steps taken by the commander-in-chief in accepting the visit of the US commander, President Jokowi has now arrived in China, to hold a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The meeting was President Xi Jinping’s first official state meeting after implementing a zero covid policy. China has been stringent in prohibiting the entry and exit of citizens during this time. The meeting will emphasize economic cooperation, investment and handling of COVID-19.

Indonesia indeed appears to be vacillating between the two superpowers. Indonesia is placing investment in its economy with China while securing its military with US training and tacit backing. This step is obviously concerning and irrelevant to the constitutional mandate of the Constitution, where it is stipulated that Indonesia must be actively involved in promoting world peace.

It gives the impression that the Indonesian government is taking advantage of tensions rather than easing them.

Recommendation Indonesia had better not take sides with either country merely for our own benefit; instead, Indonesia must firmly convey a reconciliation agenda over the South China Sea, by establishing formal and informal meetings between disputing parties, China-Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines and Australia.

Indonesia is still recklessly lashing its economy and investment closer and closer with China while furthering military cooperation with the US, acts which can jeopardize the Indonesian future.

The Indonesian government should not put our future on the line. Tension can escalate to physical war and destroy Indonesia on the front line. We expect to see Indonesian foreign policy play beautifully and wisely instead of exploiting tensions, especially for the sake of the 2024 presidential election.

Source: observerid.com