The United States has reportedly asked for Indonesia’s help to counter the increasing influence of China, particularly in the South China Sea, which some foreign policy analysts say reflects the US’ strategy of “proxy by war”.
An Indonesian source, who closely followed the contacts between the two countries, recently told The Jakarta Post that the US had asked Indonesia to receive 24 used F-16 fighter jets from the US, rather than purchasing new ones that would come in a fourth number of the granted units. The Indonesian Military (TNI) could operate the 24 jets much earlier than waiting for the new units, to boost Indonesia’s capabilities, including to monitor the situation in the South China Sea.
“The US expects Indonesia to help them counter China if anything bad happens in the South China Sea,” said the source, who requested for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
The US government, however, strongly denies that.
“The United States has not made any requests to the Indonesian government regarding any specific use of the F-16s that are planned to be granted to Indonesia,” press attaché from the US Embassy in Jakarta, Troy Pederson, told the Post on Tuesday.
The Defense Ministry’s spokesman Brig. Gen. Hartind Asrin said he did not know about anything the source referred to.
“[Our plan to take the used F-16s] has nothing to do with [any request made by the US to help it deal with China], but it’s simply because it corresponds to our posture,” he told the Post.
Aside from the US request, the two future squadrons of F-16s would definitely boost the Air Force’s strength, he said, adding that Indonesia was waiting for the US response on the price deal for refurbishment of the used F-16s expected to arrive here by 2014.
The US has offered US$760 million for that cost, while Indonesia bargains at $669 million, according to Hartind.
An Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) lawmaker and a deputy head of the House of Representatives’ defense commission, Maj. Gen. (ret) TB Hasanuddin, said he did not know of the information either.
“But whatever the case is, we have to keep our sovereignty in one piece, making our own decisions by using our own money. We don’t have any reason to assist one country to deal with another head-to-head either,” he told the Post.
While having no knowledge of the US request, the retired two-star general said the used F-16s would be coming from the US National Guard, not from the US Air Force, thus those aircraft would only have the ability for interception, not battle.
In response to the US request, University of Indonesia security expert Andi Widjajanto said what the US was doing was passing the buck, where a country fought for the interest of the US.
“This can mean two things: the US is weakening so that it can no longer apply its hard-balancing strategy with direct military confrontation; or the US is being a smart power, using the entire spectrum of power by engineering a strategic competition far beyond US territory,” he told the Post.
“If Indonesia becomes the next US target of passing the buck, Indonesia would find itself in a situation of strategic entrapment and [would be forced] to compete with China, not for its own national interests, but for the US.” Indonesia is an effective target of the US preference because of its power gap with the US, which means it has no chance to escape entrapment. It is powerless to unilaterally anticipate the rise of China, so it has to get closer with the US, like it or not, according to Andi, adding Australia also fits the first criteria.
The US also plans to establish a military base in Darwin, Australia, and deploy 2,500 marines there — a move analysts say is intended to counter China. The US says it will not be building any US bases there, but will use existing Australia military facilities and that the presence is an expansion of US training activities with its ally.
Indonesia Center of Democracy, Diplomacy and Defense executive director Teuku Rezasyah said Indonesia should not let the US allow a “war by proxy” by using Indonesia, as it did in Timor Leste (then East Timor) in 1975. He said that during that time the US made Indonesia occupy Timor Leste over its fear that a new base of communism would find a new home to grow there.