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Garuda Shield and US-China Relations

What’s happening?

In August, the United States and Indonesia are expanding an annual joint military exercise, Garuda Shield, signaling stronger US-Indonesia relations and increased tensions with China. 

This week, a news release announced the participation of 14 countries, including the UK, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Canada. The event is aligned with the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, which aims to strengthen the US’s position in the region. The strategy outlines several action items over the next 1-2 years, which include “deter[ring] military aggression against our own country and our allies and partners—including across the Taiwan strait.”

The exercise expansion comes at a critical time for US-China relations. Chinese military activities in the South China Sea, which Indonesia occupies, have concerned the US and its allies in the region for years.

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In recent months, Chinese activities include continued militarization of disputed islands, a clash with Philippine supply ships, and warplane incursions into Taiwan’s defense zone. The US is particularly concerned with China’s hypersonic missile developments.

These activities have prompted South China Sea military exercises from the UK, Germany, and France in an effort to offset China. In addition to these exercises, alliances like the Quad, AUKUS, and the Garuda Shield expansion are seen by China as a threat to its presence in the region.

According to experts, Indonesia has remained neutral throughout the US-China dispute. This makes its choice to expand Garuda Shield a significant and clear signal to China and other countries in the area. The last joint military exercise between Indonesia and China was held in 2014.

What’s the impact?

China’s growing military presence, territorial claims over self-governing Taiwan, and the evolving political climate in the South China Sea are drawing comparisons to the Russia-Ukraine war. Last month, Taiwan began boosting its combat readiness in fear of a potential Chinese invasion. 

Chinese state media has also accused the US of building an Indo-Pacific alliance, similar to NATO, as a means to intentionally provoke conflict. This is similar to Russian state narratives, which blame NATO and its allies for inciting the conflict in Eastern Europe.

Le Yucheng, China’s Vice Foreign Minister, said at a recent conference that building an Indo-Pacific alliance “would bring unimaginable consequences” if allowed to go unchecked.

Experts view this comparison as an attempt to use the war in Ukraine to reinforce perceptions that the US is an aggressor and conflict initiator. Some also claim that a conflict comparison is inaccurate. A successful military campaign against an island nation with ample western military resources would look very different from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, requiring a scale of assault that seems highly unlikely anytime soon.

Regardless, the Garuda Shield expansion and the Indo-Pacific Strategy point to growing tensions in the South China Sea that will significantly impact relations between China, the US, and other nations in the region in the coming months and years.

How Can OSINT Help?

Governments need accurate, timely intelligence to assess the Indo-Pacific information environment. This is particularly important for the US as it executes the Indo-Pacific Strategy. 

According to a CSIS expert on China, “a more comprehensive understanding of the spaces in which China is investing [and] where China is upgrading its military” will be key to developing countermeasures. Open-source intelligence (OSINT), which provides insights from public sources like social media and satellite imagery, will help answer questions like:

  • When and where is China conducting military activities?
  • What technologies are they using?
  • What narratives are circulating on Chinese state media and social media?
  • What does public sentiment look like in China, Taiwan, and other Indo-Pacific countries?

Access to relevant public data sources in the Asia-Pacific region is crucial for generating comprehensive intelligence in response to these questions. For example, social networks like Baidu Tieba, Douban, and Tencent QQ are as relevant for Indo-Pacific information environment assessments as mainstream sources like Twitter.

To learn more about APAC information sources and find out if you’re overlooking relevant data, contact Echosec Systems today.