Top US general calls Indonesia ‘key partner’ on Asia-Pacific defense tour leg

China’s military has become significantly more aggressive and dangerous over the past five years, a senior US military official said while visiting Indonesia as part of a trip to the Indo-Pacific.

Key points:

  • General Milley’s visit to Indonesia is the first by a chairman of the US Joint Chiefs since 2008
  • China has accused the US of trying to create a NATO-like organization in Asia
  • Indonesia’s top general says China has been “a bit aggressive” in territorial disputes

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said the number of intercepts of Chinese aircraft and ships in the Pacific region with US and other partner forces had increased significantly, as well as the number of unsafe interactions.

“The message is that the Chinese military, in the air and at sea, has become significantly larger and noticeably more aggressive in this particular region,” General Milley said.

His comments come as the US redoubles efforts to strengthen its relations with Pacific nations as a counterweight to China, which is seeking to expand its presence and influence in the region.

The Biden administration sees China as its “pace threat” and America’s top long-term security challenge.

In one incident, a Chinese navy ship pointed a laser at an Australian patrol plane. In another, a Canadian-controlled surveillance plane was intercepted by a Chinese fighter jet in international airspace.

US ships are routinely chased by Chinese aircraft and ships during transits, particularly around the artificial islands claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea.

General Milley’s trip to the region is heavily focused on the threat from China. (AP: Achmad Ibrahim)

In a meeting with his Indonesian counterpart, Indonesian National Defense Forces Chief Andika Perkasa, General Milley said nations like Indonesia wanted the US military to be involved and engaged in the region .

“We want to work with them to develop interoperability and modernize our militaries collectively,” he said, to ensure they can “meet any challenge that China poses.”

He said Indonesia was strategically central to the region and had long been a key partner of the United States.

Separately, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a virtual function on Monday that the South China Sea was not a “safari park” for countries outside the region or a “stage of struggle” for the great powers to compete.

The South China Sea issue should be dealt with by countries in the region themselves, Wang said in opening remarks at a virtual seminar marking the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration on the Conduct of parts in the South China Sea.

The declaration was signed by ASEAN members and China in 2002.

General Milley, who spent the afternoon at General Andika’s military headquarters, was greeted with a large billboard with his photo and name, a military parade and a large television screen showing a video of his career.

At the end of the visit, General Andika told reporters that Indonesia had found China to be more assertive and “a bit aggressive” with naval vessels in relation to territorial disputes with his country.

Earlier this year, the US approved a $US20 billion ($13.9 billion) sale of advanced fighter jets to Indonesia, and last December signed agreements to enhance joint naval exercises between the two nations .

General Milley’s visit to Indonesia is the first by a chairman of the US Joint Chiefs since 2008.

China has condemned US efforts to expand its reach in the region, accusing the US of trying to build an “Asian NATO”.

The US general’s trip to the region is heavily focused on the threat from China, with plans to attend a meeting of Indo-Pacific defense chiefs in Australia, where key topics will be the escalation of China’s military growth and the need to maintain security in the Pacific.


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