AUKUS; a three-way defense-alliance finalized and eventually signed between the three States; the United States(US), the United Kingdom, and Australia on September 15, 2021 by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Scott Morrison, and Joe Biden has grown into a popular subject in the South Asian region.

This Alliance came into existence for providing consultations as well as necessary equipment to Australia for manufacturing nuclear propellant submarines and work in the Indo-Pacific Region where the rise of Chinese Actions is alarming for certain international actors typically being perceived as a threat.

Later on, it is planned to extend the cooperation for the development of wider technologies such as artificial intelligence, cyber capabilities, Innovation, Electronic Warfare, Information sharing and quantum computing. Hereafter, some South Asian states are perceiving US’s growing influence in the region to be favorable in terms of maintaining peace and security within the region whereas some are pessimistic about its role. The pessimistic ones are of the view that US presence in the region shall cause arms race within the players of the international arena particularly within this region which shall ultimately cause distress, uncertainty and destruction of peace within the region as every state is aware of Chinese behavior having potential to turn more aggressive in case of growing outer interference such as recent AUKUS announcement.

Southeast Asian States Opposed to AUKUS:

Malaysia has consistently expressed disapproval of the dynamics pertaining to regional peace and security, and its response to AUKUS was undoubtedly unappreciative. After a phone call that happened after AUKUS finalization between Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Malaysian counterpart Ismail Sabri Yaqoob, a statement was released on part of Yaqoob that the suspectible defence alliance could spark arms race in the region and may force some actors to take aggressive actions especially in South China Sea. He expressed Malaysia’s stance to keep the South East Asian Region as a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality(ZOPFAN) and maintaining the region free of Nuclear weapons. He also emphasized that Malaysia shall never allow any outside state to enter its territorial waters for any reason. In addition, the former Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad also expressed concerns to the finalization of AUKUS as declaring South Asian Region, a place of conflict for major powers. Moreover, the defense Minister Hissamuddin announced to go one step forward and visit China for consultations on this matter of urgence. But, instead of physical visit discussion happened on a video call by Hishamuddin and Chinese Defense Minister General Wei and no further statement was made by the two about AUKUS.

Not only AUKUS but Malaysia has also been critical of China’s nine dash line in South China Sea and has always been concerned over major powers actions’ stimulating military confrontations in the region.

Simultaneously, Malaysia has good relations with Australia, US and UK and has retained close defense arrangement with the states in the form of a pact named Five Powers Defense Arrangement(FPDA) and is critical of China’s Aggressive behavior in Malaysia’s Exclusive Economic Zones(EEZs). Hence, its evident that Malaysia is not willing to take a side among major beneficiaries, but is also not willing to give up on its stance of keeping the South Asian Region free of any future military stand offs that ultimately threatens the peace and stability in the region.

Indonesia is another state that is critical of AUKUS. In a statement released in September 2021,Indonesian Foreign Minister stressed on the fact that Jakarta is very much concerned over the increasing arms race and (presumably big players) power projection within the South Asian Region. Indonesia also called on Canberra to align its action with the agreement such as Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in the Southeast Asia(TAC) to rules and obligations of which it should abide by. In the about phrase “arms race and power projection”,  Indonesia not only pointed to the AUKUS partners but to the other regional players such as China as well. A further assessment of AUKUS by an Indonesian diplomat pointed the fact that arms race in the region is a practical implication of cause –effect paradigm. For instance, China’s military buildup solely in 2020 was approximately 6.4% increased than before which was more than combined defense spending of all South Asian States. Hence, Canberra, Washington and UK had to counter this rising Chinese upgrading. Hence, it verifies that Indonesia’s response to AUKUS is nuanced observing each state’s intentions.

Philippines, another nation whose reaction to AUKUS needs to be discussed. After President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, the relations of American and Philippines strained as he chose China and Russia to build closer ties with instead of US. It happened as during COVID-19, some of the US-Philippines bilateral agreement were put on backend  resulting in Philippines withdrawal from Visiting Forces Agreement (1999)  but then it remained intact after the US Defense Secretary visited Manila. But still, the relations became bitter. Hence, Philippines declared AUKUS to spark nuclear arms race in the region.

 Southeast Asian States in Favor of AUKUS:

In addition to the states that oppose AUKUS, there are still several that offer some support for this effort.. Singapore has adopted a positive reaction to AUKUS and has perceived the deployment of the US fleets in the region as a contribution towards peace and stability in the region. As the Australian Prime Minister explained to his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsein Loong over the basic idea behind this initiative (i.e. to secure the region), Singapore is confident that the US presence along with his allies i.e. UK and Australia in the region shall work constructively to make the region peaceful, stable and prosperous in terms of communication and trade.

Singapore has always advocated balance of power in the region.

It has close relations to all three members of AUKUS and as Chinese assertiveness in the region is rising, Singapore is anxious about balancing major powers equation of global influence. Hence, Singapore is pretty much positive about the US role in the region that shall ultimately balance geo-strategic prowess . Therefore, US-China competition to be balanced in the South-Asian Region is the foremost preference of Singapore.

Another player in the area is Vietnam, which takes a similar tack to Singapore. Since the announcement of AUKUS, A Foreign Ministry Official from Vietnam spoke about how different entities needs to work together for peace in the region and the Australian Nuclear submarines received as part of AUKUS should be used for social and economic development as well as for the safety and security of the humans and environment. This stance of Vietnam is a result of some incidents that strained Chinese-Vietnamese Relations. For instance Hanoi and China  has an old dispute within the South China Sea that has made Vietnam to prioritize the US over China. Additionally, Hanoi if not openly supported Free and Open Indo-Pacific(FOIP) Strategy drawn by US, but it has expressed affirmation to the fundamental postulates of the theory that advocates freedom of navigation and rules based order in the Indo-Pacific Region.

Another state whose response to AUKUS is significant is Thailand. It basically is a treaty ally to US whereas a close partner of China as well. Thailand does not want to strain its relations with Washington and Beijing at any cost. Actually AUKUS is not that much serious concern for Thailand as much as its domestic political environment is hence, the regional peace and stability is definitely not the foremost preference of this State. There has been no official statement made about AUKUS but Thai current affairs observers filled the void and expressed their concerns over the finalization of AUKUS. In this regard, journalist Choongkittavorn expressed anxiously that the US led alliance is provoking arms race in the region and is forcing the regional entities to make a difficult choice between the US and China. In contrast, the former government official named Kasit Piromya stated that the US presence in the region is important to guarantee peace and stability in the region and to counter growing Chinese assertiveness especially when no other state exhibit the power to challenge China in this critical time.

French and European Union(EU) Reaction to AUKUS Finalization:

AUKUS Finalization has caused many grievances not only for China but also for the states such as France. Prior to AUKUS announcement, in 2016 Australia and France signed an agreement worth $90 Billion in which twelve diesel propelled submarines were to be acquired by Australia. In fact, two weeks before AUKUS was revealed (in June 2021), Australian President Scott Morrison met French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron and assured that all the arrangement were in place for the diesel propellent submarines purchase but even before that ,in March 2021 ; Australia was trying to convince UK to make US share their extremely critical nuclear technology with Australia and eventually that happened in the form of AUKUS. As AUKUS got announced to the world, Australia cancelling that agreement mentioned before and was not only perceived as a betrayer by France but was also accused for not respecting and ultimately violating the international law i.e Pacta sunt servanda ; agreements must be kept among world actors(states).

Now this cancellation of deal by Australia broke the trust as well as violated the international norm of trust prevailing in the international society. Originally, the agreement signed between Australia and France was a not merely a defense Pact but was an initiator for a 50 years long strategic partnership between the two contracting parties. Anyhow, Australia was smacked of betrayal and there was a series of interviews that reflected grave anger of French officials to the Australian act. For instance Le Drian ,the French Defense Minister during whose presence the2016 French-Australian deal was signed, said

“Allies do not treat each other with the amount of unpredictability and such brutality as Australia did”.

He further added that it was a major violation of trust and extreme duplicity of actions that happened behind their back for six months.

Moreover, this betrayal by Australia was not a surprise as for the last 70 years, United States is a major ally of the former and has a key importance in the Australian Foreign Policy dynamics as well as approach towards Indo-Pacific. Moreover, ANZUS treaty(which allowed Australia to acquire  sophisticated technology on US backing),Five Eyes Network(of which Canada, New Zealand and UK are also a part of other than Australia and the US)  and Quad(partnership shared by the US, Australia, Japan and India)  are only a few examples of Australia-US deep relationship. Hence, its easy to conclude that AUKUS is nothing more than a continuation of this long-term strategic Alliance.

AUKUS emerged as a pain point for the EU members as well. AUKUS got finalized at time when EU was preparing to unveil their “common Indo-Pacific Strategy” and at that crucial moment, AUKUS appeared no less than a betrayal to the EU members as well , as they were kept in dark about AUKUS. Hence a sharp criticism came from there for Australia by the backing of France who was majorly affected as explained before. As a response, the EU officials called for a more robust and autonomous Indo-Pacific Strategy that was free of any US leading and a unified approach of all EU members in terms of their foreign policy initiatives. This phenomenon was already explained in the Global EU strategy in 2016 but didn’t got any popularity among the members at that time. But, after AUKUS, this idea got a new traction. The EU senior official Joseph Borell stated in this regard: “We must know how to survive on our own feet just like others do”.

This unifies EU approach towards Indo-Pacific is justified as the record to US-EU relations is not much appreciative since the last few years. For Instance, EU members claimed that AUKUS is just another example of failed US approach towards harmony and unity in the region as already what US Presidents did as of Iraq Invasion, the US conflictual policies towards Syria and also US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. EU members’ officials stated that the basic need for a successful alliance are loyalty, transparency and collective advantage and in EU-US case all three was lacking.

Consequently, it illustrates how the US is seeking to spearhead the new global order, how all of its major allies are now vocal about the US’s aggressive methods, and how the US has so far drawn criticism from the majority of states.

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