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Indonesia and ASEAN, at the Crossroads of AUKUS and China’s Powers

The position of Indonesia and ASEAN is very important in maintaining harmony between the intersection of the great powers AUKUS and China.

Indonesia and ASEAN are at the crossroads of military defense power and the world’s strongest economy. The formation of the trilateral defense pact AUKUS and the strengthening of China’s dominance require ASEAN to act wisely in order to maintain the conductivity of the Indo-Pacific region.

In September 2021, the United States , Britain and Australia agreed to form a new defense pact called AUKUS. The name of this pact is an acronym for the three members of the alliance, namely Australia, United Kingdom and United States. This defense alliance cooperates in a number of areas, such as artificial intelligence, cyber warfare, underwater defense capabilities, and long-range attack capabilities.

The cooperation between the three countries is allegedly aimed at countering China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region. According to the journal “AUKUS Opportunities and Constraints for Indonesia (2021)” by Lukman Yudho Prakoso from the Defense University, through AUKUS, the US and the UK will help Australia develop and deploy nuclear-powered submarines in the Pacific region.

As a first step, this cooperation focuses on building nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy. This means that with this cooperation, Australia will become the seventh country in the world to operate nuclear-powered submarines. The technology for making nuclear-powered submarines will later be provided by the US as the US has given to Britain.

This submarine technology makes it possible for Australia to have submarines that go faster and are more difficult to detect than conventional submarines. These nuclear-powered submarines allow them to dive for months and can fire missiles at longer ranges. However, Australia emphasized that it had no intention of installing a nuclear warhead on the missile submarine.

The steps of the three allied countries have indirectly demonstrated their position of international political choice in the Indo-Pacific region. While not explicitly mentioning China’s strength and presence in the region, the three leaders repeatedly referred to concerns about the security of a region that is “developing significantly”. This situation is an opportunity for the three AUKUS countries and their allies to protect shared values ​​and promote security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.

Indo-Pacific conflict

In recent years there have often been reports of various conflicts in the Indo-Pacific region which in the end have involved a number of major world powers, although not directly. For example, the conflict over territorial boundaries in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait conflict between China and Taiwan. Most of those tensions ultimately involve the great powers China and the US though behind the scenes.

This situation is a big challenge for ASEAN countries to maintain regional conduciveness. ASEAN must be able to maintain regional security and stability even though several ASEAN member countries are also involved in feuds with China in the South China Sea region. For example, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Indonesia, which are still in dispute with China’s claims to the nine dashlines in the South China Sea.

Even though a number of state boundaries in the South China Sea have been recognized by aspects of international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS, China does not seem to want to recognize this legality aspect. This makes the South China Sea still cause ripples of conflict and at the same time requires a number of diplomatic efforts to overcome these differences of opinion.

This step is very important to avoid conflicts in the field, both for the state apparatus on duty and for fishermen who are catching seafood. This is because China’s nine-dash line claims to control around 80 percent of the South China Sea.

Nonetheless, the option of open conflict with China involving the armed forces of each disputing country is not the right solution. Apart from being related to China’s massive military defense power, this step of conflict is also inconsistent with the efforts and values ​​that ASEAN has built in the Indo-Pacific region. The ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific publication states that ASEAN has an interest in establishing peace, security, stability and prosperity for nations in Southeast Asia and in the wider Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean region or the Indo-Pacific.

There are a number of ASEAN views on the Indo-Pacific that refer to the ASEAN Charter and a number of relevant documents. Among them is the perspective of seeing the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, not as adjoining territorial spaces, but as an integrated and closely interconnected region so that ASEAN can play a central and strategic role.

The next view is ASEAN as an area of ​​dialogue and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and ASEAN as an area of ​​development and prosperity for the entire Indo-Pacific. In addition, it carries the view of the importance of the maritime domain and perspective in the development of regional architecture. One of the aims of this last view is to prevent the emergence of regional domain conflicts due to different perspectives.

These views indicate that ASEAN is more inclined to choose the path of peace and places more emphasis on cooperation schemes in the Indo-Pacific region in order to create stability and mutual prosperity. This is a big step that will be pursued by Indonesia, which in 2023 will serve as chairman of ASEAN.

Carrying the theme “ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth”, Indonesia’s chairmanship pushed ASEAN to be relevant and important not only for the Indonesian people, but also for the people of ASEAN and outside ASEAN. In addition, pushing ASEAN as a center of high economic growth and even growing higher than other countries outside ASEAN.

With this vision and mission, there are no other words for Indonesia other than creating stability in the ASEAN and Indo-Pacific region broadly. The increasing intensity of conflict or suspicion of the formation of the AUKUS alliance must be able to be submerged and mediated so as not to trigger conflict and lead to pressure on soft power from China which can have detrimental effects on many countries.


Geopolitical tensions with China can have a negative impact on the economy of a country and the region. This is because China has the largest export valuation in the whole world which indirectly illustrates how strong China’s bargaining power is. Most countries in the world have a very high dependence on a number of imported commodities from China. Thus, China can use this opportunity as soft power for its international geopolitical interests.

In fact, countries that are members of the AUKUS pact also have a high dependence on China. Based on oec.world data in 2021, the US has an import dependency on China of around 19 percent or a value of more than 500 billion US dollars. The same thing happened with the UK and Australia which also had high demand for imports from China with a size of 12.7 percent and 27.9 percent for each country. The value of commodity imports from China in Britain and Australia each reached more than 70 billion US dollars.

In the three AUKUS alliances, imports from China dominate all imports held in the country concerned. This means that there are a number of commodities that are urgently needed to run the economy in these three countries. Most of the commodities imported by these countries from China are computer and electronic products.

This condition illustrates that if there is tension between AUKUS and China, there will most likely be disruptions to the supply of a number of these commodities. In fact, it can have an impact on the business sector in the country concerned because computer, electronic and digitizing devices are very important for business development in the service sector.

The magnitude of China’s economic domination can be used as a space for soft power threats , but it can also be interpreted as a space for negotiations. For ASEAN, China is an important partner in international trade. China’s share of imports in ASEAN countries is around 36 percent or a value of more than 450 billion US dollars. This nominal is very large for an economic transaction so that it can become a diplomatic space for ASEAN and China to negotiate on many things, both in the economic and non-economic fields.

The high spending on imports from China can be a bridge for ASEAN countries to negotiate a number of disputes or issues involving China. Even though it’s not easy, at least there is room for negotiations to overcome the problem while maintaining the continuity of China’s large trade.

This opportunity can also be used by Indonesia which also happens to have large trade relations with China. Moreover, with Indonesia’s current position as chair of ASEAN, maintaining harmony with China is a strategic step to create economic stability in the region.

By prioritizing the spirit and values ​​that ASEAN has built, Indonesia can participate in creating peace and harmony in the Southeast Asian region and the region around it. Indonesia’s closeness with allied countries, including with the AUKUS alliance, can be a bridge to continue to maintain the stability of the Indo-Pacific region so that tensions do not escalate between the allied bloc and China. The position of Indonesia and ASEAN is very important to maintain harmony between the intersection of these great powers.

Source : Kompas