Indonesia hails 'new era' for U.S. ties, hosts biggest joint military drills

JAKARTA, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Indonesia's foreign minister said on Thursday her nation had entered a "new era of bilateral relations" with the United States, as the countries' armed forces launched their biggest ever joint training exercise this week involving 3,000 troops.

Speaking from Washington after meeting U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other officials, Retno Marsudi welcomed more U.S. engagement in the region and expressed high hopes for closer ties with the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden.

"As a democratic country and Southeast Asia’s largest economy, a strong strategic partnership with Indonesia will provide significant added value for U.S. engagement in the region," the minister told a news conference.

The "strategic partnership" between the countries spanned trade, investment, security and public health, she said, with the U.S. announcing this week it would donate an additional $30 million in COVID-19 assistance to purchase oxygen and medical supplies and to boost Indonesia's vaccine rollout.

Indonesia has been battling a surge in coronavirus infections since July, recording more than 3.5 million cases and 100,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The United States has been seeking to shore up its position in the region to counter the rising influence of China, and Retno's visit to Washington coincided with the countries' biggest ever joint military exercise.

Indonesia also has good ties with Beijing, and during the pandemic has relied heavily on vaccines from China as part of its national inoculation programme.

Indonesian army chief of staff General Andika Perkasa and Charles A. Flynn, commanding general of the U.S. Army Pacific, said on Wednesday they hoped the joint exercises would boost military capabilities and bilateral relations, according to a statement by the Indonesian military.

The "Garuda Shield" joint exercise will run between August 1-14 and involve more than 3,000 soldiers.

Reporting by the Jakarta Bureau; Editing by Ed Davies

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