Security Scholar suggests: AUKUS and Southeast Asia edition (updated)

[Indonesia, Philippines and Singapore sections updated Wednesday 29 September] Welcome back! With AUKUS dominating the news, I took a small break from Suggests to write for The Strategist (more on that below). Today’s a small hit of Southeast Asian views on Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines and the new security pact announced on 15 September as well as some interesting things to sink your reading teeth into.

Check yo’self. Officially Indonesia is viewing the submarine decision “cautiously” and was “deeply concerned over the continuing arms race and power projection in the region”. There is, of course, more than one view in Jakarta so also check out this excellent thread by friend and colleague Evan Laksmana who raised important questions from an Indonesian strategic perspective and rounded up all op-eds and statements by former foreign ministers, retired military and major media outlets (updated to include op-eds by senior Foreign Ministry official and Jakarta Post senior editor). My latest Strategist article also picks up the theme of Indonesia’s potential concerns. As an insightful counterpoint to Jakarta’s official caution, over on Foreign Policy friend and fellow SDSC PhD scholar Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto had some wise words about AUKUS’ utility to ASEAN:

Australia’s experience can offer lessons for ASEAN countries. Instead of counting the costs of opposition to Beijing, ASEAN leaders should ponder their affordability. ASEAN countries need to reflect on how much independence they have lost or are losing while deflating opposition to Beijing’s coercive diplomacy. Rather than fearing China’s counteroffensive, ASEAN should formulate an Indo-Pacific strategy that recognizes AUKUS, the Quad, and other similar arrangements as leverage over China’s growing military and economic power.

Meanwhile, the Defence Minister of Malaysia says “We need to get the views from the leadership of China, especially China’s defense, on AUKUS that was announced by the three countries and what are their actions following the announcement.” What does he really think they’re going to say?

Another friend over in Kuala Lumpur, defence journo Dzirhan Mahadzir has a more chilled out series of tweets of how AUKUS plays out with Malaysia. Check it out in full but in short: “We don’t like it but we still BFF (Best Friends Forever) with Australia.”

“You go girl!” (mostly) Among the upbeat club, the Philippines seems to be the most supportive so far. Foreign Minister Teddy Locsin’s statement points out that ASEAN, “singly and collectively”, isn’t packing enough heat to “avoid disproportionate and hasty responses by rival great powers” and that “the enhancement of a near abroad ally’s [ie Australia’s] ability to project power should restore and keep the balance rather than destabilize it.” Worth reading the statement in full. Since then, on Tuesday 28 September, President Duterte’s spokesperson said that his boss wasn’t too keen on the pact which could “[insert talking points about triggering nuclear arms race]”. Analysts are asking why the spokesperson would buck the tone laid down by the nation’s top diplomat … but then again, it’s Du30.

Softly softly. Singapore was a bit more muted, with PM Lee saying during his call with Australian PM Morrison the same day as the announcement that he “hoped that AUKUS would contribute constructively to the peace and stability of the region and complement the regional architecture.” Meanwhile, on Saturday 25 September at the UNGA, Foreign Minister Dr Balakrishnan expanded on his PM’s words, saying “The fact that we have a longstanding and constructive relationship [with Australia, the UK and the US] with large reservoirs of trust and alignment is very helpful because it means we are not unduly anxious about these new developments.” While underscoring the importance of ASEAN centrality, he added that AUKUS was “really part of a larger geo-strategic realignment, and we have to take these things in our stride.”

Peace out in! Similar to Singapore, a spokesperson from Vietnam‘s Ministry of Foreign Affairs just yesterday carefully stated “All countries strive for the same goal of peace, stability, cooperation and development in the region and the world over” and that “nuclear energy must be developed and used for peaceful purposes and serve socio-economic development, ensuring safety for humans and the environment.” In contrast, former Vietnamese diplomat Nguyen Ngoc Truong kept it real real: “Beijing may become even more aggressive. But China reaps what it sows.”

No sugar. While Thailand hasn’t released an official statement, former Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said “No one country in the region wants to be under the domination of China and the U.S. presence is thus a necessity” and “the current Chinese leadership has become revisionist with assertive and aggressive ambition.” Worth reading in full is senior Thai journalist Kavi Chongkittavorn’s take of how AUKUS will turn Southeast Asia into a “new battleground of the “Hot and Sour War””.

Grab a cuppa. Shout out to my ANU officemate and Friday Burgers crew member Emir for recommending Anand Gopal’s essay “The Other Afghan Women” in The New Yorker. (more commentary on this to come)

Laying down the law. My viewing choice this week is UNSW law professor Douglas Guilfoyle. Besides from being an absolute boss on maritime law and the South China Sea, he gave this presentation on the potential application of the international criminal law doctrine of command responsibility to the findings of the Brereton Report inquiry (40mins).

This week’s Suggests brought to you by the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Bring Da AUKUS Ruckus”. Image courtesy of Department of Defence. Catch y’all next week! —NS