World, Asia - Pacific

'AUKUS aims to consolidate US alliances in Indo-Pacific against China's hegemony'

Indonesia can play significant role in stopping rivalry between US, China that has direct impact on region: Int'l security expert

Devina Halim, Pizaro Gozali Idrus, and Erric Permana   | 21.09.2021
'AUKUS aims to consolidate US alliances in Indo-Pacific against China's hegemony'

JAKARTA, Indonesia

International experts said the AUKUS defense pact formed by the US, UK, and Australia aims to counter China's hegemony in the South China Sea, while governments of Southeast Asian countries consider this alliance a trigger of conflicts in the region.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency on Tuesday, Rizal Hidayat, an international security expert from Indonesia's Al Azhar University, said that according to the formation of the alliance, Australia and the UK are members of the Five Power Defense Arrangements (FPDA), while the US is the main ally of the two countries.

Consolidating US power in Indo-Pacific

Hidayat said the alliance was deliberately formed as a consolidation of the strength of the US alliance to compete with China, which is currently the hegemonic power in the Indo-Pacific region.

“FPDA (members) has the principle to protect each other. If its members are attacked they must protect each other. Moreover, China is assertive in Southeast Asia," he said.

The FPDA is a defense alliance formed by Australia, UK, New Zealand, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Since it was signed in 1971, the FPDA countries have agreed to help each other in the event or threat of an armed attack.

Hidayat said that although the UK seems to be unaggressive in the region, it would still stand by force when it came to the US and Australia’s interests in the South China Sea.

"So, I see AUKUS as efforts to strengthen the political security agenda of the three countries," he said.

In July, China claimed to have expelled a destroyer belonging to the US near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

Beijing said the destroyer USS Benfold entered the waters of the Paracel Islands without the Chinese government's authorization.

Hidayat said China has a big influence in Southeast Asia as the country prioritizes bilateral relations, while the US emphasizes multilateral diplomacy.

"China uses soft power approach, but behind that, it will offer mutualistic symbiotic cooperation between countries," he explained.

Meanwhile, international relations observer from the University of Indonesia Hikmahanto Juwana said the US seemed to build the pact to share the burden in dealing with China's power.

Juwana said the current US capability is different than it used to be when dealing with the Soviet Union, so it is unable to face China by itself.

“In the past, the US had economic power, was able to provide debt and others, and its defense equipment was sophisticated. Now, it still has sophisticated defense equipment, but no economic power," he told Anadolu Agency on Monday.

Member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have emerged to become the number one trading bloc with China in 2020, with their trade volume jumping to 4.74 trillion yuan ($731.9 billion) or growing 7% year-on-year, according to Chinese customs data.

The US and China have recently competed to exert influence in the region. US Vice President Kamala Harris toured Southeast Asia in August and emphasized that Indo-Pacific is the top priority for Washington’s diplomacy at the time.

Two weeks later, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also visited Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, and South Korea to strengthen cooperation and discuss regional issues.

ASEAN countries consider AUKUS a trigger for conflict

Despite being a part of the FPDA, Malaysia has rejected the formation of the AUKUS defense pact that plans to arm Australia with nuclear submarines.

In a phone conversation with Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton on Monday, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein emphasized that the establishment of AUKUS will potentially disrupt peace and stability in the region, particularly in the South China Sea.

"Although Australia has distinguished between nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered military assets, Malaysia's stance remains consistent - all parties must refrain from using military actions that are deemed provocative, as well as potentially escalating tensions and triggering conflict in the region," Hussein said in a statement.

At the end of the conversation, Hussein said he conveyed Malaysia's commitment to bilateral defense relations with Australia, including through the FPDA.

In 1995, ASEAN established the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone agreement to ensure peace and stability in Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, Indonesia expected that AUKUS will further enhance the dynamics in the South China Sea.

Head of Indonesian Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) Vice Adm. Aan Kurnia said the direct impact of AUKUS on the defense sector would be an increase in the presence of large military forces in the South China Sea’s waters.

Speaking at a hearing with parliament on Monday, Kurnia said the defense pact can cause disruption and increase the risk of conflict in shipping traffic.

"If it goes to the security economy, insurance will increase, logistics costs will rise, so it will lead to energy and economic crisis, that's the security impact," he said.

"The rivalry at sea will also encourage the countries involved to increase their war capabilities so there will be a risk of war," he added.

Indonesia can stop US-China rivalry

Juwana said Indonesia could play a significant role in stopping the rivalry between the US and China, which had a direct impact on the region.

He said what Indonesia can do is make a request to ASEAN to hold a special session to oppose Australia's plan, suggesting that the country can approach China, as a US competitor, to reject Australia's plan.

"What is expected is that the US will be worried that Indonesia will form an alliance with China and therefore will stop Australia's plans to build nuclear-powered submarines," added Juwana.

He also noted that Indonesia can also encourage France to bring this issue to the UN Security Council.

Australia has joined the US and UK to form the new Indo-Pacific security alliance. The formation of AUKUS means Australia will discard its Future Submarine Program with France, an EU member, and assemble eight nuclear-powered submarines with its new allies.

Several countries have expressed their concern over the formation of the pact and called on Australia to give up the power game and nuclear weapons development in the Indo-Pacific region.

*Writing by Rhany Chairunissa Rufinaldo with Anadolu Agency's Indonesian-language services in Jakarta.

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