International experts discuss geopolitical and security implications of AUKUS on ASEAN at the New Inclusive Asia Dialogue on Oct 26, 2021. (SCREENSHOT VIA ZOOM)
BEIJING – More than a year has passed since the signing of AUKUS, a trilateral security pact between Australia, Britain and the United States. Feeling cheated, many stakeholders found that the pact increasingly endangers, rather than promotes, regional peace and security.
For France, the loss is not only about a lucrative contract, but more about the eroded trust between itself and its "close allies." A stab in its back by AUKUS reminded France of 19th-century British statesman Lord Palmerston's famous quote — "We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual."
For ASEAN countries who embrace peace and security in the Asia Pacfiic region, AUKUS represents a disillusioning, if not hazardous, deal
No wonder the then French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, was infuriated, berating that "there has been duplicity, contempt and lies." Australia did reach a settlement with France by paying a $585-million compensation, but General Charles de Gaulle's judgement stands the test of time: "Never did the Anglo-Saxons really treat us as real allies."
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For Australia, the pact appears to be a great boon: the conventionally powered French submarines will be upgraded to a more advanced type, and Canberra will be able to significantly enhance its military technology and defense capability. However, as the Guardian reported in July, due to limited submarine-building capacity of the United States, Australia has close to zero chance of getting a submarine from America's current program.
Marcus Hellyer, a senior analyst at Australian Strategic Policy Institute, was quoted in a Guardian report as saying that "the only way Australia would get a nuclear-powered submarine by 2030 would be if the US gave us one of their own boats." That is a big if. Canberra rejoiced too soon in having a chance to enhance its defense capability, only to find out in the end that US promises are mere bad checks.
As former Australian diplomat Bruce Haigh commented, AUKUS is a fig leaf for US plans to base its forces in Australia. While promoting the so-called "interoperability" between US and Australian militaries, the pact would only make Australia a new overseas military base for the United States and a bridgehead for geopolitical confrontation in the region.
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For ASEAN countries who embrace peace and security in the region, AUKUS represents a disillusioning, if not hazardous, deal. The pact has heightened the risk of nuclear proliferation in the Pacific region and greatly undermined the decades-long efforts of countries there to preserve a Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone.
In a broader sense, the pact has broken the delicate balance of power in the region and challenged the well-functioning regional security arrangements. Former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte once cautioned that the pact could trigger a "nuclear arms race." Other ASEAN countries like Malaysia and Indonesia have also expressed similar concerns.
In a joint statement to mark one year of AUKUS, leaders of the three countries declared that they respect human rights, rule of law and peaceful resolution of disputes free from coercion, and that they "remain committed to ensuring the highest level of nuclear safety, security, and stewardship."
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Such arrogance and hypocrisy have been fully exposed when everything AUKUS has done and will do betray their commitment. It is nothing but a coercive saber-rattling move by Anglo-Saxon allies that tramples on international rules and disrupts peaceful resolution of disputes.
(The author is a commentator on international affairs, writing regularly for Xinhua News Agency, CGTN, Global Times, China Daily etc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)