The security pact has set the main focus on the Indo-Pacific region and marked a new level of deterrence against Beijing’s assertiveness in the region. In September, the announcement of the military partnership between the US, UK and Australia has been made. The security agreement will allow Canberra to build nuclear-powered submarines and underwater drones for the first time using technology provided by the US and the UK. The submarines have much greater range and endurance than the French-built diesel sub fleet it has replaced. The US has a long involvement in the Indo-Pacific region and is known to share allies, particularly Australia. This pact also means that the US shares their nuclear capability with Australia. The nuclear–power submarines will enable the Australian navy to operate undetected for longer periods underwater.
As the US Secretary of State Blinken indicated earlier this year in his visit to Japan, along with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that China’s claims in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea have become a priority issue. It’s also known that Beijing has been piling sands onto reefs and building artificial islands on the disputed islands since 2013 and later claims that these new islands have a 12-nautical mile zone (territorial waters) that should be regarded as Beijing’s territory. Its growing assertiveness in the disputes in the south china sea, pressure on Taiwan, also rising military build-up and influence in the region have led to the formation of the pact. China responded furiously by accusing them of being stuck in the “cold war” mentality.
While the cooperation may be seen as the way to deter Beijing, the response from the Southeast Asian countries remain divided. The Philippines welcomed the pact, which is expected since Manila has been dealing with Beijing’s growing assertiveness and military build-up in the disputes of the south china sea. Taiwan, who recently expressed its concerns over Beijing’s military planes incursion into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ), marking the sixth time incursions this month, also welcomed the pact. Taiwan’s ministry of foreign affairs spokeswoman Joanne Ou stated that the agreement doesn’t imply that Taiwan is asking anyone to fight on its behalf, in response to Britain’s declined to fully commit to a military defence in case of invasion from China.
Southeast Asian countries have tensions with Beijing, including maritime and territorial disputes, as well as questions relating to Chinese ties to its diaspora communities in these nations. However, they remain discreet since Beijing is a critical trading partner and also benefit from Chinese foreign direct investment. Additionally, some ASEAN countries appear to consider that, in case of military tension between China and the West, the region will be in the centre of it and bear the resulting burden.
Jakarta expressed its concern over the pact. Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated on the 17th of September, saying that it takes notes cautiously on the decision to acquire nuclear-powered submarines and is deeply concerned over the continuing arms race and power projection in the region. Jakarta is aware of the growing military build-up from China and the tension in the south china sea that is mainly involving Beijing, Hanoi and Manila.
Jakarta has experienced incursion from Beijing, the recent one in August this year China was meddling with Harbour Energy’s drilling campaign at its Tuna block in Indonesia’s Natuna Sea offshore.
This wasn’t the first time, since it also happened in 2016, when President Joko Widodo visited the island and held a cabinet meeting since Beijing stated that its “overlapping claims” on nearby water. The meeting was aimed to assert Indonesia’s sovereignty and was seen as the strongest message to Beijing on the issue. In 2020, another tension occurred when Beijing’s coast guard vessels and fishing boats entered Indonesia’s EEZ, off the coast of the northern Natuna islands. While Jakarta is slowly moderating its navy, currently it seems to be focused on its domestic issues, such as the COVID – 19 and its implication on the country’s economy.
In early October, Hanoi gave a response that appears to be neutral. When questioned about AUKUS, Vietnamese spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang mentioned, “All countries strive for the same goal of peace, stability, cooperation and development in the region and the world over”. Hanoi has also experienced tensions with Beijing. China was involved in the Haiyang Shiyou-981 oil rig standoff with Vietnam. HYSY – 981 was located 120 nautical miles east of Vietnam’s Ly Son Island and 180 nautical miles south of Hainan, which fell within the maximum hypothetical entitlements of both China and Vietnam under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Beijing has reportedly parked it for weeks in waters Vietnam considers its own.
The pact also means that Canberra will be more involved together with Washington in deterring Beijing and it signalled a tougher stance from the US. The military alliance that was announced only a month after the US withdrawal from Kabul also speaks volumes about the current US priority.