BY UMSU PRESS
What exactly is AUKUS?
AUKUS is a trilateral security treaty for the Indo-Pacific area launched on 15 September 2021 by Australia, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US). The US and the UK will assist Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines under the terms of the treaty. Cooperation in "cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and new subsea capabilities" is also included in the treaty. Australia will obtain additional long-range strike capabilities for its air force, navy and army under the terms of the deal. The agreement will place a premium on military capability, distinguishing it from the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing partnership, which also includes New Zealand and Canada.
On 17 September 2021, France, an ally of the three countries, recalled its ambassadors to Australia and the United States; French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian referred to the pact as a "stab in the back" following Australia's abrupt cancellation of a €56 billion (A$90 billion) French-Australian submarine deal, effectively ending efforts to deepen France's strategic partnership with Australia.
The recently formed Australia, United Kingdom, and United States security pact (AUKUS) has sparked widespread alarm among ASEAN member states, as it will enable Australia to acquire technology for building nuclear submarines, upsetting the region's security balance. Malaysia has expressed reservations about AUKUS, with Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein raising concerns that the presence of AUKUS could potentially disrupt the peace and stability in the region.
What Does Southeast Asia's New AUKUS Alliance Mean?
The AUKUS alliance is also likely to have significant repercussions for Southeast Asia, a region at the geographic heart of the new partnership's primary emphasis region – the Indo-Pacific. Until now, the region's governments have been mum on the announcement. Whether in public or private, there is reason to believe that their reaction to the new endeavour will be profoundly ambiguous.
The new collaboration is likely to face scepticism in a region that lacks appetite for a new Cold War. From Australia's perspective, the contract amounts to a bet on Washington's long-term commitment to retaining military superiority in Asia. As such, numerous commentators have emphasised that in exchange for arming Australia with SSNs, the US is wishing Australia to play a significant role in its efforts to control China, including participation in any future battle with China.
How are ASEAN member states evaluating and reacting to the AUKUS treaty, and might the arrangement potentially fracture the ASEAN group if member states have markedly divergent opinions on AUKUS?
AUKUS is a united front led by America and a component of America's Indo-Pacific Strategy to limit China, as ASEAN is the primary arena of US-China confrontation. It is likely to undermine ASEAN's regional peace and security, hence harming the region's investment climate. One reason for the US departure from Afghanistan is to concentrate America's resources on competing with China. Thus, the establishment of AUKUS shortly following the US pullout from Afghanistan is not coincidental.
Malaysia, as China's second largest trading partner among ASEAN countries, is understandably concerned about the formation of AUKUS, particularly at a time when the country desperately needs foreign investment, notably from China, to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the geographical separation of the three AUKUS members from ASEAN/China, AUKUS would be ineffectual as a "NATO" against China.
No ASEAN country, unlike EU countries and Soviet Russia during the Cold War, is likely to join a US-led "Asian NATO." ASEAN member states are likely to take their example from America's recent disorderly exit from Afghanistan without consulting its partners. According to many, the United States is a self-centered superpower that cannot be trusted. Malaysia and Indonesia, two of ASEAN's ten member states, have expressed significant opposition to AUKUS, with Indonesia cancelling Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's visit in protest. Singapore, the Australia's most dependable regional ally, has expressed worry. AUKUS is unlikely to win additional support among ASEAN members, as they thought it would aggravate US-China competition in the region, prompting both countries to engage in more aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea.
AUKUS is unlikely to undermine ASEAN unity, as ASEAN member states will adhere to ZOPFAN's ethos and retain ASEAN's centrality in the great power rivalry. The creation of AUKUS by Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States directly contradicts the spirit of SEANWFZ. Many believe that after acquiring nuclear-powered submarines, Australia will likely pursue additional nuclear weapons acquisitions in the future. Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, on the other hand, collectively control the Straits of Malacca. The three countries may together leverage their control of the Malacca Straits on AUKUS in order to maximise their use of this vital waterway.
AUKUS could have a political and economic impact on Malaysia.
Malaysia may face various economic and political consequences as a result of the trilateral cooperation agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (AUKUS). AUKUS is viewed as a Western or US-led effort to exert control over China. The deal provides for the transfer of all nuclear submarine technologies to Australia. Previously, only the United Kingdom enjoyed this privilege. The US will thereby cover a large portion of the vastIndo-Pacific area and establish a nuclear submarine base. The US's drive to contain China has the potential to wreak havoc on Malaysia's relationship with China. Malaysia is quite important economically to China; as we have a great deal of interest in China, particularly in terms of commerce, and there are several Chinese investments in Malaysia.
If military action occurs, Malaysia will be forced to back one of the two sides, the US or China. China's claims in the South China Sea would also be a factor, as the researcher believes that neighbouring nations such as Singapore and the Philippines are likely to vouch for the US, with the latter housing many US military sites in the aftermath of its territorial conflict with China.
One possible consequence of AUKUS is the reintroduction of a new Cold War between the Quadrilateral members and China. The US and Australia maintain a strong partnership, while Australia is hesitant to label China a threat, despite the fact that the Australia-China relationship plainly benefits both parties, particularly in commerce and investment.
The US and Australia must be willing to shift their narratives away from China as a threat and toward China as a shared partner. Prejudices against socialism directed at modern China do nothing to improve the world; they create a confrontational motivation that has historically resulted in numerous wars, with capitalists, particularly weapons and artillery manufacturers, profiting at the expense of civilians and the environment.
MALAYSIA'S PLAN WITH RESPECT TO THIS ISSUE
Malaysia, in collaboration with ASEAN, will have to strike a delicate balance in relation to the new Indo-Pacific security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The government will use diplomacy to ensure that the creation of this pact does not jeopardise regional peace or result in unintended and dangerous consequences. Malaysia is a stalwart supporter of world peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly on issues of nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, and peaceful applications of nuclear technology. Australian officials will offer the Malaysian government with additional explanation on the contentious tripartite partnership.
Malaysia has expressed grave fear that AUKUS could trigger an Indo-Pacific nuclear arms race. In 1971, against the backdrop of the Cold War, the Five Power Defense Arrangement (FPDA) was established to avert a possible domino effect from the Vietnam War. The government may use the leverage provided by its 50-year Five Power Defence Arrangement (FPDA) with New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Singapore to resolve the matter. With the new treaty in place, Malaysia sought to preserve ASEAN's neutrality. However, due to the fact that only Singapore and Malaysia are ASEAN members in the FPDA, it is unlikely that Southeast Asian countries can use the FPDA as leverage to oppose AUKUS.
Written by Secretariat of Current Affairs 2021
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