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US, Indonesia armies hold joint combat exercises after growing China threat

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Armies from the United States and Indonesia held annual joint combat exercises Friday on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, after signs of growing maritime activity by China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Over 5,000 soldiers from the US, Indonesia, Australia, Japan and Singapore joined this year’s exercises, making them the largest since the drills were established in 2009.

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The joint drills began early this month in Indonesia on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. They also bring together some countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, France, India, Malaysia, South Korea, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and East Timor, as observer nations.

China sees the expanded drills as a threat. Chinese state media have accused the US of building an Indo-Pacific alliance, similar to NATO, as a means to intentionally provoke conflict.

US Indo-Pacific Commander, Adm. John C. Aquilino said threats are what they are trying to avoid.

He spoke in a joint news conference with Indonesia’s military chief Gen. Andika Perkasa on Friday in Baturaja, a coastal town in South Sumatra province.

China has also been more assertive over its claim to virtually the entire South China Sea.

Aquilino said that fourteen nations involved in this realistic training have delivered interoperable forces to ensure that their forces can come together and support whatever is needed in a time of crisis.

“We’ll continue to help deliver a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Aquilino said, “Our desire is to build our relationships, build our interoperability and be ready should we need to respond to any contingency.”

A closing ceremony to be held on Sunday to mark the end of the joint combat exercises encompassing army, navy, air force and marine drills.

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