According to a report from Reuters, Indonesia rejected requests from the US to land and refuel P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance planes in the Southeast Asian country.
Unnamed senior Indonesian officials told Reuters that the US made multiple “high-level” approaches to Indonesia’s foreign and defense ministers in July and August before Indonesian President Joko Widodo rejected the request.
The officials said the US proposal surprised Jakarta since Indonesia has a long-standing tradition of foreign policy neutrality. The request came at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing, a rivalry Southeast Asian countries have found themselves in the middle of.
Dino Patti Djalal, a former Indonesian ambassador to the US, told Reuters that Jakarta was unnerved by Washington’s “very aggressive anti-China policy” in the region. “We don’t want to be duped into an anti-China campaign. Of course we maintain our independence, but there is deeper economic engagement and China is now the most impactful country in the world for Indonesia,” he said.
The request to refuel the spy planes coincided with an increase in US military flights near China’s coast. A Beijing-based think tank that monitors flights in the region recorded a significant uptick in US military flights in July.
The South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI) recorded 67 flights of US reconnaissance aircraft in the South China Sea in July, compared to 49 flights in June and 35 in May. Since July, the number of flights has stayed roughly the same. The SCSPI recorded 60 US sorties in the region in September.
The think tank believes the real number of US flights is probably higher since some planes disguised themselves as civilian aircraft or did not turn on their transponders.