Chinese ships left the port of Qingdao this weekend to take part in multilateral naval exercises hosted by Indonesia just a week after renewed tensions erupted between the two countries over the South China Sea, the Chinese defense ministry said.
Last week, a Chinese coast guard ship had attempted to intercept an Indonesian crackdown on a Chinese boat for illegal fishing, sparking unprecedented outrage from Jakarta. The incident had led some to wonder what the implications might be for Indonesia’s South China Sea policy as well as Sino-Indonesian relations more generally (See: “Will Indonesia’s South China Sea Policy Change Amid China’s Assertiveness?”).
On Saturday, in a notice on its website, China’s defense ministry confirmed that the Chinese navy flotilla would be participating in a biennial multilateral naval exercise hosted by Indonesia as scheduled. The second iteration of Exercise Komodo, which will take place in the city of Padang and the islands of Mentawai, will be held from 12 to 16 April. It will involve major navies – including Indonesia, the United States, Russia and France – and feature a range of military capabilities including 48 vessels, eight helicopters and four fixed-wing aircraft.
This year’s exercises will focus on maritime peacekeeping operations, and will take place in conjunction with the 2016 International Fleet Review as well as the 15th Western Pacific Naval Symposium in a busy week for Indonesian naval diplomacy. As usual, the exercises will be divided into various stages and feature a range of interactions including port-and-shore activities, maritime exercises, and engineering and rescue ashore.
In a welcome message ahead of the event, Indonesia’s navy chief Admiral Ade Supandi said that Exercise Komodo would not only help with improving coordination and interoperability critical for peacekeeping operations, but also serve to highlight Indonesia’s growing maritime role, which is one of the priorities of Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo with his goal to position Indonesia as a global maritime fulcrum/axis between the Indian and Pacific oceans. (See: “Indonesia’s Maritime Ambition: Can Jokowi Realize It?”).
“[I]t is one of the efforts of the Indonesian Navy to realize Indonesia to become a global maritime axis,” he said.
The first iteration of Exercise Komodo, which took place in 2014, focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as its theme. In that exercise, Indonesia fielded 4,800 personnel and 27 warships.