Is ASEAN at Fault for Rising Indo-Pacific Tensions?

Credit: ASEAN Secretariat/Eant Phone Aung

Through its dithering and lack of unity, the bloc has opened a space for further interference from outside powers.

THE DIPLOMAT – By David Hutt October 07, 2021

ccording to the Chinese government, the new AUKUS security agreement between the United States, Britain, and Australia is a threat to regional security. Some Southeast Asian states saw it along similar lines. The Philippines was a lone voice in publicly supporting AUKUS, and Singapore gave a tacit thumbs-up. But Malaysia’s newly-installed prime minister, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, claimed it could “be a catalyst toward a nuclear arms race” and might “provoke other powers to act more aggressively in the region, especially in the South China Sea.” Indonesia’s government released a statement saying it was “deeply concerned over the continuing arms race and power projection in the region.” (A useful analysis of Jakarta’s stance can be found here).

Fears over an escalating arms race is only part of the explanation for Southeast Asia’s lukewarm response. A potentially more illustrative grievance stems from ASEAN’s feelings of its own increasing irrelevance. Evan Laksmana, of Jakarta’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, presciently argued that Indonesia fears that the new AUKUS arrangement leaves it as a “strategic spectator.”



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