The first-ever training exercise involving Chinese and Indonesian Special Forces units will conclude on 17 June. With a focus on counter-terrorism and hostage rescue operations, the exercise, Sharp Knife 2011, represents a further deepening of Sino-Indonesian military relations. When considered alongside the US-Indonesia CARAT naval exercises of May 2011, the Sino-Indonesian exercise confirms Jakarta’s wish to have balanced relations with both powers and the attractiveness of Indonesia as a partner to both Washington and Beijing.
Taking place in the city of Bandung, some 140 kilometres south-west of Jakarta, Sharp Knife 2011 began on 6 June. The exercise brought together special forces personnel from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and their counterparts from the Kopassus (Komando Pasukan Khusus) Special Forces Command of the Indonesian National Armed Forces.
A detachment of sixty-nine Chinese troops is taking part in the week-long exercise, the key components of which are field exercises in which hostages must be rescued from terrorists. The theme reflects a common concern for both countries, as Beijing casts an uneasy eye over its restive Xinjiang province and Jakarta monitors Islamist extremists targeting the Indonesian state.
While Sino-Indonesian military ties have deepened in recent years, they are not being pursued exclusively. Jakarta retains warm relations with the United States. Like many of its neighbours, Indonesia remains nervous of a rising China, with which it is ever more economically entwined. It aims to balance China’s expanding military capabilities by encouraging a continued US presence in the region. The US-Indonesia CARAT naval exercises held in the Java Sea in May 2011, involving information exchanges and maritime security, anti-piracy and anti-smuggling exercises, reinforced the comprehensive partnership signed by Presidents Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Barack Obama in November 2010.
A key regional actor and leading member of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Indonesia’s economic growth and sheer potential, together with the progress made by Jakarta in combating extremism, make it a valued partner for both China and the US. This is emphasised by the country’s strategic location alongside key waterways such as the Malacca, Sunda and Lombok Straits. Looking forward, Indonesia’s bilateral military relations with China and the US can be expected to continue to expand.
Leighton G. Luke
FDI Indian Ocean Research Programme