China’s J-10 Fighter Jets, Indonesia And The South China Sea – OpEd


In February 2022, the first Chinese-made J-10 multi-role fighter jets for the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) appeared. The single-engine J-10 medium-weight fighter will help modernize that service and deepen the military relationship. It’s a significant milestone as the first export sale of the J-10.

How dangerous is China’s J-10 to Indonesia? 

J-10 was China’s hand-made military jet in Chengdu, China, and officially operationalized J-10 under Vigorous Dragons. With its claim in the South China Sea, Beijing upgraded the J-10 to the naval versions codenamed J-10A and S. The maritime version of the J-10 is capable of being launched from aircraft carriers. It is the J-10 where this fighter jet is equipped with AESA radar, electro-optical targeting sensors (IRST) for tracking stealth aircraft, and the latest WS-10A engines are more powerful. J-10 will be a formidable opponent for Indonesia’s F-16. 

In early February, the Diplomat reported $22 billion worth of purchases by the Indonesian Defense Ministry of Western fighter jets were announced under two significant contracts. The first was an $8.1 billion deal for 42 Rafale twin-engine lightweight fighter jets from France, and the second was a $13.9 billion deal for 36 F-15 Eagle heavyweight fighters from the United States.

Some scholars argued that Indonesia’s transaction with France and the US would strengthen the Indonesia air defense in the South China Sea. However, some scholars also argued that Indonesia should update its military with the US. The background of that argument was based on China selling J-10 to Pakistan. 

Indonesia has an opportunity to upgrade the F-16. Even the US rebuked Indonesia to upgrade its F-16 to the Block 72 Viper. The US urged the Viper was better from all sides than F-16 ‘s Indonesia has now. Despite Indonesia also gathering intentions to buy the F-35, the US suggested that Indonesia must first purchase the F-16 Viper or F-15 Eagle II.

As the Viper provider explained, Lockheed Martin argued it would be very risky for Indonesia if it did not continue the Fighting Falcon tradition, “Building a fighter aircraft support ecosystem is going to be very expensive, not to mention the infrastructure on the ground, pilot training, and maintenance.” Some of the F-16s upgraded versions of Block 52ID Indonesia are currently stationed in Natuna. F-16s often patrol there, and there is a formidable opponent, Chengdu J-10 China.

However, on March 15, 2022, Indonesia and China held a phone talk to prepare for their cooperation in the economic realm. They also regarded the Ukraine crisis. However, Indonesia Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi asserted Beijing’s authority to reduce its South China Sea activities. Retno said Beijing must respect Indonesia’s territory based on the law of the sea, named UNCLOS 1982. 

This statement is prominent for Indonesia. Since Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Dodo was elected in 2014, China has increased its military activities in the South China Sea, a part of Indonesia’s water. In 2019 and 2020, several moments that Indonesia side captured Chinese people who fished in that water. Meanwhile, Beijing responded that China’s waters are based on its history called nine dash-line. The Chinese government also rebuked the Indonesian government for stopping drilling the oil. 

In the future, J-10’s China will be a tool of the Chinese government to pressure Indonesia in the military aspect in the South China Sea. Hence, Jakarta should take a position. Despite Retno Marsudi talking with Beijing, China never let Indonesia take that area. The Indonesian government should consider its strategy to follow US suggestions to face China in the South China Sea. 

*M Habib Pashya, an International Relations student at Universitas Islam Indonesia and a Researcher at Center of Indonesia-China Studies 

M Habib Pashya

M Habib Pashya is a Master's student at Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM). His research focuses on China's foreign policy, Indonesia's foreign policy, and US-Taiwan-China relations.

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