A protester with a sign that reads 'Strongly protest against US encroachment on South China Sea is held by two police outside the US Embassy in Beijing on October 28. Photo: EPA

Indonesia calls for US-China to ‘restrain themselves’, lashes US ‘power projection’ after Spratly sail-by

Indonesian government recalls Afghanistan and Iraq wars to show power projections have deadly results in a surprising turn from the South China Sea contest

Daniel Moss

The Indonesian government expressed disapproval Wednesday over a “power projection” exercise conducted by the United States which saw a Navy destroyer enter what Beijing claims to be its territorial waters around artificial islands in the South China Sea.

“We disagree, we don't like any power projection,” Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan told a small group of reporters.

“Have you ever heard of power projection solving problems? In Afghanistan? In Iraq? The United States has spent trillions of dollars in Afghanistan and Iraq. What are the results? Hundreds of thousands of people were killed. And now, violence continues to happen in Iraq,” he added.

Pandjaitan made the statement a day after the USS Lassen, based in Yokosuka, Japan, sailed near the Spratly islands, escalating tension between the United States and China.

The U.S. warship's patrol within 12 nautical miles (about 22 kilometres) of Subi Reef in the archipelago represents the U.S. government's strongest action in recent years to challenge China's continued pursuit of territorial claims in one of the world's most important shipping lanes.

China criticised the move as a “deliberate provocation.”

The current situation in Afghanistan, Iraq and some countries in the Middle East, according to Pandjaitan, has been the result of power projection by powerful countries.

“We don't want that, because we have seen that power projection will not solve any problem. Indonesia believes in the tradition of building dialogues and negotiations, because the results will be more positive than showing off your power,” he said.

Saying Indonesia's relationships with both the United States and China are good, Pandjaitan called on the two countries to “restrain themselves.” He also reiterated Indonesia's commitment to playing an active role in making the region peaceful by pushing for dialogue between conflicting countries to help settle any disputes.

U.S. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter indicated in Washington that the United States will continue its navigation in the waters.

WATCH: US patrols in South China Sea not a problem: Philippine President

Philippine President Benigno Aquino, speaking to foreign correspondents in Manila, said he supported the US naval manoeuvres as an assertion of freedom of navigation and as a means to balance power in the region.

“I think expressing support for established norms of international behaviour should not be a negative for a country,” he said. 

“I think everybody would welcome a balance of power anywhere in the world.” 

Without identifying China by name, he said “one regional power” has been making “controversial pronouncements” that must not be left unchallenged.

China claims sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, which is believed to be potentially rich in oil and gas resources.

China says the United States, Japan and other major countries are outsiders in its disputes with smaller Asian claimants, including the Philippines and Vietnam, and should not interfere.

Despite China's protests, Australian defense planners are looking at the possibility of a naval sail-through close to China's artificial islands in the South China Sea, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“Australia has been looking at options,” the report quoted one unnamed official in Australia’s military familiar with operational planning.

The report quoted another defense official as saying that plans for possible naval operations or flights by maritime patrol aircraft had been prepared, though there is no immediate intent to put them into play.

China has repeatedly argued that its rapid reclamation work is civilian in nature and warned that it would never allow violations of its territorial waters in the name of freedom of navigation.

The United States informed nations in Southeast Asia, as well as Japan, this month of its intention to send naval vessels into the disputed archipelago, according to diplomats.