It can be argued that a significant part of the rivalry between the United States (US) and China is composed of regional issues in the Asia-Pacific. The first of these is the Taiwan Question. China sees Taiwan as a separatist region. Therefore, Beijing has a goal of unification. For this reason, Washington is trying to pressure Beijing through Taiwan by making various agreements with Taipei. The visit of the former Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan on August 2, 2022, and then the meeting of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on April 5, 2023 proves this situation.
On the other hand, one of the most important problems related to China in the region is the South China Sea issue. As a matter of fact, the sea in question has a critical importance for the containment policy that the USA is trying to implement against China. In addition to all these, Beijing claims rights over the so-called “Nine-Dash Line” in the South China Sea. This particularly disturbs the riparian countries Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam. Therefore, it can be said that China’s relations with these countries are tense due to these allegations. On the other hand, it can be argued that the USA also played an important role in the aforementioned tension and affected countries.
In this context, the relations between China and the aforementioned states are important both within the scope of Washington’s containment policy and in terms of Beijing’s political influence in the region. In this process, China’s maritime relations with Indonesia, which has a coast on the South China Sea, are important. Because Beijing will participate in multilateral naval exercises to be organized by Jakarta, to which states such as North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the USA are also invited.
In the statement made by the Ministry of Defense of China, it was stated that the ships of the Chinese Navy named Zhanjiang and Xuchang with guided missiles will participate in the exercises called 2023 Multilateral Naval Exercise Komodo (MNEK). The exercise in question will be the fourth exercise since 2014. The previous exercise was held in 2018; but later the exercises were suspended due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The exercise in question will be held in Makassar between 4-8 June 2023 with the participation of the navies of 47 countries, including China.
In this context, Beijing’s refusal to reject Jakarta’s offer adds special importance to the exercises in question. Because maritime security and the influence that can be obtained on the seas are very important in the Asia-Pacific Region. As a matter of fact, the region is located between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. In addition to all these, there are many islands in the region. At the same time, collaborations such as the AUKUS Pact, ANZUS and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) are alliances that are shaped over the seas and aim to surround Beijing through the seas.
On the other hand, the fact that Indonesia has a coast to the South China Sea and is in competition with China at this point also increases the importance of the exercises. As a matter of fact, Beijing’s participation in these exercises may reduce regional tensions. On the other hand, this may also allow China to analyze the naval forces of its rivals. Likewise, its rivals may find the opportunity to observe China’s naval power. These possibilities may cause the parties not to show their real potential in the exercises.
In addition to all these, it is quite remarkable that the navies of North Korea, Russia, USA and China were invited to these exercises at the same time. Because the general structure of the international system can be read through these four states. At the same time, there is a serious geopolitical, geoeconomic and geostrategic rivalry between Washington and Pyongyang, Moscow and Beijing. In the shadow of this competition, it is very important for the parties to practice jointly.
On the other hand, South Korea was also invited to these exercises. It is very interesting that South Korea is one of the states that most closely feel the threat of North Korea and that these two countries take part in the exercises together. This situation may lead to a softening, albeit conjunctural, in the strategy of the USA, together with South Korea, against both North Korea and China.
As a result, China’s participation in the exercises in question may reduce regional tensions in the short term; however, it can be said that this development will not solve the main problems between the parties and especially the conflicts in the South China Sea in the long run.
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