Three Strategic Challenges in the Asia Pacific Region States

THE CITIZENANURADHA CHENOY | 22 OCTOBER, 2021

 In this interconnected globalised system three major challenges confront Asian states and civil societies: (i) How to deal with the Sino-US competition as the US escalates military alliances like the AUKUS and QUAD (ii) Take a humanitarian position on the civil war that is brewing in Myanmar on account of the military coup and civil opposition. (iii) The security challenge from Taliban controlled Afghanistan.

Any Asian state that believes it can be isolated from these will be regrettably mistaken.

(i)The Trilateral Security Agreement of US, Australia and UK- AUKUS is embedded in the US-China rivalry, specifically the US’s constant hegemonic and imperial desires.The US seeks enhanced resurgence (it never left) in the Asia Pacific termed the Indo-Pacific.

The US deep state from Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ through Trump’s China phobia to Biden has aggravated threat perceptions about China’s growing clout in the international finance and trade system. Since the US dominates militarily its tactic (similar to its approach to the Soviet Union) is to apply military pressure and threats. The US has crafted “Integrated Defence”, a series of localised regional defence agreements at different levels (unlike the large NATO, SEATO), that centre the US as the hub and different allies as ‘spokes’ with differing utility.

This strategy will be buttressed by the ‘US Strategic Competition Act of 2021’ (under discussion in the US Congress) that juxtaposes US “preponderance of power” to be projected militarily, financially and technologically against three major enemies China, Russia and Iran. The method is militarization of space, land and sea; maintain nuclear strength, financially check the BRI, oppose RCEP; maintain the international role of the dollar; and retain the US irreplaceable edge in soft power.

On the other hand, China projects its ‘peaceful rise’ by increasing its financial, technological and infrastructure dominance in Asia. Its military strategy vis a vis the US is defensive, as opposed to US’s offensive one. As a regional hegemon China’s expansionist goals and offensive maneuvers are felt in the South China Sea and around the neighbourhood, especially by India, Taiwan etc.

China’s global strategy envisages three stages: (a) achieving ‘world class forces’ (b) managing and deterring war and © maintaining a strategic balance. The US plays on underlying regional fears and rivalries to develop pacts like the AUKUS and QUAD. However this strategic balance is intrinsically unstable. The US has a much higher balance of forces and offensive capabilities, and the Indo Pacific is a real theatre of possible wars.

Russia as part of this Sino-US rivalry and an Asian power is now projecting its Far East, neglected for two decades, with the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) with collaborations- investments in hydrocarbons, minerals etc.

Russia’s deep strategic alliance with China and opposition to NATO; strong alliances in Central Asia like Shanghai Cooperation Organization– where Iran is now a full member; the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and alliances in parts of West Asia, India and others extend its influence though the Asia Pacific.

The AUKUS Trilateral Security Pact, offers highly sensitive nuclear technologies to Australia to manufacture nuclear powered submarines, something that the US shared only with the UK. With this deal Australia surrenders an agreement on acquisition of conventional submarines from France to advance the agenda of the US nuclear industrial complex. It reveals the US perfidy with its NATO allies when it comes to inter capitalist economic competition.

AUKUS ensures that China will also follow in developing a nuclear submarine fleet, which currently it does not possess. It will badger the Russians for this technology and aggravate the nuclear footprint in this region.

The AUKUS deal will cost Australia billions of dollars at the expense of social expenditures; threaten the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and regime; increase the carbon footprint of the Australian Forces; nuclearise the Pacific; threaten the climate and security of the hundreds of Pacific Islands; polarise the Asian and specially the ASEAN countries.

For example Indonesia and Malaysia have officially opposed AUKUS.The Philippines has supported this while Singapore, Thailand with deep trade relations with China and Vietnam prefer negotiating with China do not wish to be forced into sides. Similarly India has remained ambiguous, even as some Indian strategists have expressed regrets about non inclusion.

Afterall the QUAD despite military exercises is a poor second, asked to focus on climate change and vaccines. Meanwhile India relies heavily on Russian arms and several deals are in the pipeline. New Zealand and the Pacific Islands have come together to oppose the AUKUS. The AUUKUS is disrupting regional groupings and potentially disrupting regional security.

In these circumstances the most vocal critics are civil society groups that expose the increased militarism of the Indian and Pacific Oceans that AUKUS will ensure; demand that the ASEAN Treaty on the Zone of Peace in Pacific be enforced; and ask that . ASEAN must push the Chinese to respect Exclusive Economic Maritime Zones and Rights.

The Australian CSOs are critical in this opposition and will question why the Australian Government is willing to alienate its allies in the Pacific and spend billions of dollars in nuclear security for its ships in the Pacific, when they are basically trading with China- their biggest trading partner.

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