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ASEAN Countries Concerned About Australia’s Nuclear Submarine Fleet

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ASEAN Countries Concerned About Australia’s Nuclear Submarine Fleet

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Australia’s foreign policy pursuits will isolate it from the Southeast Asian region.

Written by Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst

Despite claims by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, his country has no genuine aspirations to ensure the security of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. Rather, the policy of confrontation with China, which is being obsessively pursued by Morrison, makes Australia increasingly alienated from ASEAN.

“What Australia has to do is […] take decisions in our national interest to ensure we have adequate defences and an adequate way of providing stability in the region, not just for Australia, but all of our friends in the region. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, all countries we work closely with in the region, ASEAN countries,” Morrison said in an interview with CBS on Sunday.

In the same interview, he acknowledged that Beijing may see the presence of Australian nuclear submarines as a threat, but still simply dismissed their concerns. Morrison attempted to alleviate complaints from neighbouring states by deceivingly alluding that an Australia nuclear submarine fleet also boosts the security of ASEAN. It is worth noting that the Australian prime minister’s comments were made after Malaysia and Indonesia highlighted that a nuclear submarine fleet within the framework of the AUKUS alliance is a step towards an arms race and increased tensions in the region.

Australian leaders in the capital of Canberra are yet to realize that they have more common interests with ASEAN countries than with the U.S. and UK. Although Australia continues to forge new military alliance with these two countries – an alliance driven by Anglo identity and opposition to China, Australia’s long-term economic prosperity hinges on relations with Southeast Asia’s massive economies. ASEAN countries are not naïve though and do not believe Canberra’s claims that its nuclear submarine fleet will be for the collective security of the region. In fact, Canberra’s hardening position against Beijing would make ASEAN countries wary as undoubtedly China is a far larger economic partner to the region than what Australia is and ever could be.

If Australia once had the image as a country supporting international peace and stability (when ignoring their participation in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq), it is now beyond doubt that Canberra has no strategic independence and instead wilfully submits to Washington’s influence and demands, especially against China. As Australia now has the image of being the U.S.’ police dog in Asia-Pacific, ASEAN countries will be extremely hesitant in seeking closer ties, especially as the Australians have already demonstrated they will stab close partners in the back, just as AUKUS had recently done with France.

ASEAN members are aware that if they strengthen their relationship with Australia, China may take this as a signal that they are drawing closer to a hostile country. Due to the sheer size of trade between ASEAN and China, ASEAN countries will gradually alienate Australia if it continues to maintain a policy that is overly aggressive. In 2019, the total value of exports from the ASEAN region to China amounted to approximately $202.46 billion, a dramatic increase from 2010 when exports amounted to just over $112.5 billion. Australia’s population of just under 26 million people cannot challenge the market size of 660+ million people in ASEAN and China’s 1.4+ billion people.

Therefore, Morrison’s emphasis that the common interest with ASEAN countries in ensuring stability will be difficult to convey, especially now that some member states are already voicing concern about Australia’s future nuclear submarine fleet. In fact, many would see Australia’s acquisition of a nuclear submarine fleet as a major blow to nuclear non-proliferation. It is recalled that at the end of last week, China held separate meetings in Beijing with the ambassadors of the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, thus further isolating Canberra as it prioritizes relations and partnerships with the West despite being geographically located to the immediate south of Southeast Asia.

ASEAN countries realize this reality and are thus making their own steps to protect the Southeast Asian region from Australia instigating an arms race. On Sunday, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein confirmed that his ministry requested consultations with China on the matter. At the same time, the Minister denied baseless accusations from the opposition that Malaysia “received instructions” from China. Malaysia’s action also come as the Indonesian Foreign Ministry stressed last week “the importance of Australia’s commitment to continue meeting all of its nuclear non-proliferation obligations … [and] calls on Australia to maintain its commitment towards regional peace, stability and security.”

For Australia, as it continues to descend back into the dark reaches of hyper-Anglo chauvinism and nationalism, it will soon realize that the region will become a whole lot lonelier for it as it isolates itself from nearby Southeast Asian neighbors for the sake of prioritizing the interests of Washington and London.


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