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AUKUS vs ASEAN – «a return to bloc policy»

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The current efforts by the United States, Australia and Britain to establish  AUKUS partnership were on the agenda of the talks between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, which took place in Moscow on October 12. A statement relative to this issue was made by Russian Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov as he addressed the 29th Assembly of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy on October 2: «One of the most popular trends of today is the so-called Indo-Pacific strategies, which were devised by the United States, materialized in  QUAD (USA, Japan, India, Australia), and just recently spilled into the creation of AUKUS. All this adds to the blurring of universal formats in Asia and the Pacific, which used to enjoy the patronage of ASEAN, and were all ASEAN-centered». Earlier, on September 25, speaking at the UN General Assembly, Lavrov said that «pushing for «an order based on the rules», instead of unconditional compliance with international law, is fraught with a dangerous return to the bloc policy, creation of division lines between a group of western countries and the rest of the world».

The challenges posed by the AUKUS pact for South East Asian countries go farther than reducing the efficiency of ASEAN-focused dialogue platforms, such as the East Asian summit.  The risks may also affect consensus within the Association itself, whose members are supposed to work out a common stance on the “semi-alliance” of Washington, Canberra and London. On the other hand, ASEAN’s abstention  from elaborating a clear position on the issue will do no good either.

Malaysia’s Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, addressing national parliament on October 12, called for working out a common stance at ASEAN’s forthcoming summit on October 26-28. Indonesia, traditionally acting as an informal “moderator” of ASEAN agenda, and Malaysia proper, have already presented a negative assessment of the new partnership, which could lead to a new arms race and erosion of nuclear non-proliferation, and which could provoke other actors concerned into taking more radical measures. Philippines can be described as an overt supporter of the pact, while other ASEAN members have yet to clarify their positions. ASEAN is mostly cautious about the issue in question, particularly in view of Australia’s participation in the new alliance.

Australia’s decision to cooperate in the  development of its own nuclear submarine fleet with non-nuclear weapons as partnership within AUKUS runs counter to Canberra’s image as a staunch supporter of all kinds of nuclear non-proliferation initiatives and moves against the spread of other types of weapons of mass destruction which has been in place since the early 1970s and which was always welcomed by ASEAN. Australia is a member of one of six agreements on nuclear-free zones (The Treaty of Rarotonga of 1985). While the ambivalence of Australia’s foreign policy stems from its hope of American nuclear umbrella, it is clear that in the case of Canberra, American nuclear guarantees look more blurred than for Tokyo. We are not talking about Australia’s nuclear choice, all issues related to “non-peaceful atom” is a sensitive issue for South East Asian countries, and not only for them. For the first time, a “loophole” in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has been made use of, enabling non-nuclear countries to develop nuclear submarines. Also far from encouraging are plans by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to purchase Tomahawk cruise missiles from the USA.

Until recently, ASEAN countries considered Australia and New Zealand the friendliest and spiritually closest segment of the Anglo-Saxon world. Now that the submarine deal is in place, Canberra and Wellington might face differences. In addition, ASEAN now knows the true value of assurances by Quad members that they are interested in maintaining the ASEAN – centered architecture in Indo-Pacific Region.

Incidentally, in the days of Shinzo Abe’s second Cabinet, Australia intended to purchase submarines for the Royal Navy from Japan. The Soryu-class submarines (Mitsubishi-Kawasaki consortium) are considered equivalent to nuclear ones in their characteristics and are viewed as the most advanced of non-nuclear submarines.  The deal fell through under pressure from the Australian defense industry, which insisted on producing the submarines locally and, as some “evil elements” say, under pressure from Beijing, which enjoyed good positions in Australian business community. In the course of an open tender, the Australians opted for a French project. Tokyo was outraged, and now Paris too “went overboard”. However, it’s highly unlikely that Australians will say ‘no’ to Americans as well, after change of government, there can be “no kidding” with “Uncle Sam”.

As said before, statements in approval of the pact came from Manila. Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin said on September 19 that broadening capabilities of a nearby ally towards projecting their might will contribute to the restoration and maintenance of balance, rather than destabilization. In  the opinion of the minister, the expansion of Australia’s capabilities will make a tangible contribution to the military potential of the United States, Australia’s ally.

As for the other two countries that were among the founders of the Association (Singapore and Thailand), they have not expressed their point of view yet. On September 16 Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had a telephone conversation with his Australian counterpart, in the course of which the two sides discussed anti-Covid measures and the new pact. Lee Hsien Loong expressed hope that AUKUS would make a tangible contribution to regional peace and stability and would make a good addition to regional architecture.

For Thailand, AUKUS is a more sensitive issue. At present, Thai Royal Navy has no submarines, however, in 2017 they reached agreement on the purchase of a diesel submarine from China, while two more deals are in limbo for lack of funding.

Vietnam, a key regional player, has abstained from formulating a clear position on AUKUS. Though, it has to be pointed out that Hanoi’s military ties with Canberra, Washington, New Delhi have expanded dramatically in recent years. But Vietnam is against using the term “strategic partnership” relative to its relations with the USA. Ties between Vietnam’s and Japan’s defense sectors have been developing and the two sides have reached an agreement on military and technological cooperation.

What presents a special interest is the reaction to AUKUS from Cambodia, which is strongly dependent on economic assistance from China. The Australian government has offered to conduct “explanatory work”.

On October 8 Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne called his Cambodian counterpart Prak Sokhon to discuss the prospects for AUKUS, and according to Phnom Penh  media, the two parties sounded optimistic. Prak Sokhon are quoted as saying that Cambodia, which sustained so much suffering and destruction, wants the region to remain peaceful, stable and prosperous, and hopes that AUKUS will not fuel unhealthy competition or further escalation of tension . This is a diplomatic wish, no more. But the question – what was AUCUS created for? – suggests the logical answer that it was created to “enforce order based on the rules”. Whose rules?  – no guessing needed.

From our partner International Affairs

Southeast Asia

Vietnamese PM Chinh visit to Japan: A new era of cyber, space and defence cooperation



pham minh chinh

Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh visited Japan from November 22-25 and discussions about trade, investment, defence, cultural and enhancing political ties took place between the two leaders. The former prime minister of Japan Suga had visited Vietnam in October 2020, and it was his first visit to any foreign country. With the coming of Fumo Kishida new prime minister in Japan, Vietnamese Prime Minister thought it prudent to engage the new political leadership. When recently Kurt Campbell stated that India and Vietnam will be crucial in deciding the fate of Asia and the three countries namely India, Vietnam and Japan have been closely cooperating with one another because of two major factors. The three countries are in the periphery of China and have major stakes in the resolution of the South China Sea dispute. Second, these three economies are promising economies in Asia and are seen to be major harbingers of technology, economic growth and sustainable development. 

The visit of Vietnamese prime minister is primarily seen from the point of view of projecting the need for ‘Free and Open Indo Pacific’ and developing close cooperation between Vietnam and Japan. During the visit of Japanese defence minister to Vietnam last year several agreements have been signed between the two sides which included transfer of technology and defence trade between the two sides. Vietnam is facing a few challenges related to trade and investment, growing cases of Covid 19 pandemic, need for modernisation of its armed forces and realising the potential of the regional organisations such as ASEAN .In terms of developing necessary technical acumen for renewable energy sources and facilitating foreign direct investment from Japan were the major agendas for the visit of the Vietnamese Prime Minister. 

The Vietnamese Prime Minister visit was his first official visit to Japan. Vietnam is increasingly seen as a middle power which requires support and cooperation from Japanese in areas such as waste management, infrastructure development, developing technology parks, export processing zones and vocational training skills to emerge as one of the engines of economic growth in Southeast Asia. In fact, Japan was the only few countries in Asia with which Vietnam has developed air bubble agreement during COVID-19 to facilitate travel of passengers and businesspeople from the two countries. Given the fact that Vietnam is slowly opening its trade and investment and tourism sector it would be looking for countries in Europe and in Asia to spur development in the country. Japanese tourists are important incoming visitors for Vietnam because of their spending and booking high end resorts and hotels.  

Following the COP- 26 meeting which was held in London there have been huge expectations from the Asian countries to reduce their carbon footprints and look for other viable sources of energy. The visit of Vietnamese Prime Minister explored diverse issues related to politics, security, cultural interactions and development of human resources in Vietnam. The two defence ministers also signed aagreements related to transfer of technology and exports of Japanese defence equipment and weapons to Vietnam. Japan has already embarked on a policy to support littoral countries of South China Sea through patrol boats and fast attack crafts. 

One of the critical areas that Vietnam is looking for is the development of technology and scientific rigour within the country. In this context collaboration with Japanese scientific institutions and academic community would help Vietnam to develop skills and human resources to cater to the industrial revolution 4.0. Also, Vietnam is looking for developing expertise in areas such as machine learning, big data mining, artificial intelligence, underwater systems, developing sustainable development and energy resources in those South China Sea islands so that the soldiers can become self-sufficient in energy and clean water resources. Japan has been looking for alternate sources of investment and developing infrastructure in countries such as Vietnam Cambodia and Laos. Vietnam itself is emerging as a viable alternative to China in the wake of recurring cases of COVID-19 pandemic in China. Japanese investors and entrepreneurs are looking for relocating their businesses and investments. 

There is no denying of the fact that developments in South China Sea are of critical importance both for Vietnam and Japan, and it is expected that the two leaders discussed these issues in detail. The Chinese assertive activities in South China Sea have been deplored by Japan and other allied partners in the past. Vietnam is looking for cooperation with Japan in terms of submarine hunting capabilities and developing acumen for better management of human resources in defence sector. In terms of military cooperation between the two sides there is a lot of potential in terms of maritime surveillance aircraft, fast attack crafts, and coastal radar systems. Also, sonar systems and developing helicopter mounted surveillance systems would and has Vietnamese defence and surveillance capabilities. The two countries signed an agreement on space defence and cyber security. 

One of the important critical areas that the two countries discussed was related to the implementation of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and promoting intra regional trade so that better complementarities could be developed between the two sides. Another important forum where Japan and Vietnam are members is CPTPP and there is speculation that President Joe Biden might be interested in re-joining the grouping. Taiwan and China have expressed interest in joining it, but Japan is in favour of only Taiwan.  In such a context when the two countries are at the crossroads of economic integration and regional economic groupings, it is expected that the two leaders discussed necessary checks and balances so the trade interests of the two countries can be protected while enhancing the integration at the regional level. 

Vietnam is also seen as a probable candidate for the Quad Plus initiative and Japan has been very insistent on engaging the country in a more proactive way. India, Vietnam and Japan could be one trilateral which will bring in a large market, Strong technology fundamentals, unique cultural identities and common strategic concerns acts as glue between the three countries. The development of Vietnam and Japan ties would reconfigure Asian identity and future.      

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Southeast Asia

ASEAN’s prospects in 2022 under Cambodian Chairmanship



Exactly a decade later Cambodia faces the big question that whether the memory of the past can be erased, given the fact that during the last ASEAN meeting in Cambodia in 2012 the ASEAN communiqué was not released because of strong differences on the issue of South China Sea among various ASEAN claimant states. In the year 2021 after the ASEAN chairmanship of Brunei, Cambodia assumed the charge as the chairman of ASEAN for next year and there are expectations among the ASEAN member countries regarding the future course of action of the organization as such. During the 2021 ASEAN summit there were number of issues which were raised pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, return of democracy in Myanmar, participation of dialogue partners in reviving trade and investment in the region, and realizing the blueprint for ASEAN communities.

During the year 2021 the ASEAN meeting’s theme was “we care, we prepared, we prosper”, and the stress was on regaining the ASEAN community and working on harmonious region with more focus on people. The meeting reflected the desire of the people for maintaining the regional organization’s momentum within the ASEAN and beyond. During this year’s meetings (38th and 39th) the stress was on economic recovery and addressing the aftereffects of COVID-19 pandemic. There was much stress regarding the regional organization’s resilience, peace, security, and social progress. In fact, most of the member countries tried to work on strengthening the ASEAN’s capacities and working on solutions in the wake of economic slowdown because of the pandemic.

Under the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 the stress was on realizing the targets which are been set in the past and this year took note of the achievements in the last decade. The stress was on implementing the provisions of the ASEAN charter and improve the efficiency of the regional organization. Time and again it has been stated that ASEAN centrality is critical for peace and security in the region and therefore dialogue partners should make extra effort to recognize provisions of Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in the current context. The cohesiveness of the organization which was stimulated under the Vietnam chairmanship in 2020 gained support and it is expected that Vietnam whatever was required to support the agenda for future.

The mid-term review of the ASEAN community blueprints, and ASEAN agenda would progress further during Summit in Cambodia in 2022. However, the ASEAN’s Cambodian Summit would be seen with apprehension given the fact that Hun Sen has stated that he would go that extra distance so that the ASEAN summit meetings are held peacefully and there are no domestic protests during that time against ruling party. This year’s ASEAN meeting already took note of the developments in Myanmar and raised apprehensions about the human right violations in the country and the atrocities which have been committed against the pro-democracy protesters.The dialogue partners have also raised concerns regarding developments in Myanmar. In such a context it would be interesting to note how Cambodia manages the domestic upheavals as well as demands from China which in the past has dictated terms to Cambodia on various issues which concern China. One issue which ASEAN is facing is the increasing Chinese assertion in the contested waters of South China Sea. As it has seen in the past the criticism of China was not accepted by the Cambodian Prime minister Hun Sen and therefore the issue of politics and security would shadow ASEAN unity and centrality.

One of the important things which have been achieved by Cambodia in the past was the adoption of the Declaration of Code of Conduct of Parties (DOC) in South China Sea in the year 2002. It would be two decades when the negotiations related to South China Sea have taken place and there is no sign of adoption of Code of Conduct in the contested waters. More importantly, the global community will be looking at the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh because it will facilitate better trade and investment opportunities for the three countries namely Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. This region is also seen as a potent competitor against China for shifting of select production and manufacturing facilities to this region. However, Cambodia is seen as increasingly getting into China’s strategic orbit because of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the development of the Ream naval base by the Chinese PLA. Even US investment in Cambodia is suffering because of increased influence of China in Cambodia ‘s political apparatus.

Cambodia ASEAN Summit 2022 is expected to be in person summit and there is attendance likely to be of all the other member states and the dialogue partners as well. The 2022 ASEAN summit meeting would be seen as a precursor to other developments in the  region, particularly in the context of managing pandemics, promoting inter-ASEAN trade and investment, encouraging people to people connectivity, and also undertaking efforts to build digital and financial infrastructure in the region. The region itself is facing various challenges, particularly in the context of adopting measures required for realization of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and reducing tariffs and non-tariff barriers among the signatory countries. Therefore, in the year 2022, the summit at Phnom Penh might see the utility of new alliances such as AUKUS and how Cambodia responses to the request of United Kingdom to be the dialogue partner of the organization.

Also, as it has been seen in the year 2016 Cambodia hindered any reference to Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) judgment in favour of Philippines while entertaining Chinese request in this regard. The critical security challenges that the organization faces would again get reflected during the Cambodian Summit and it would be interesting to note whether Cambodia will come out of Chinese shadow and release the joint statement which was missing during the last Cambodia Summit. Invariably, it would also pave the way for ASEAN to emerge as a formidable organization or  be relegated just as a ‘talk shop’. 

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Southeast Asia

Green Volunteering ASEAN: Our common future



Volunteerism is the voice of the people put into action.  These actions shape and mold the present into a future of which we can all be proud.“ — Helen Dyer

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘volunteerism’ as an act in which a person voluntarily undertakes or expresses a willingness to undertake a service. People who volunteer in non-profit organizations, for example, are willing to offer their personal services, oftentimes expecting nothing in return. Taking it a step further, what is ‘green volunteering’?

Green volunteering refers to a range of activities which include environmental monitoring, ecological restoration, and educating others about the natural environment. It can come in three forms: practical, fundraising, and administrative.

Practical green volunteering involves environmental volunteers who are involved in habitat management, for example, such as vegetation cutting or removal of invasive species. Fundraising green volunteering involves organizations that raise funds for a particular environmental cause. Finally, administrative green volunteering refers to volunteers who offer their skills and expertise in terms of legal support and public relations, to name a few. In other words, there are many types of green volunteering initiatives that you can take on today.

In the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN), which consists of 10 member states, there are plenty of green volunteering initiatives that one can participate in. For instance, in Bali, Indonesia you can become a reef conservation supporter wherein you will work with other volunteers and local communities to restore and protect Bali’s coral reef ecosystems. Meanwhile, in Thailand, you can volunteer in an Elephant Sanctuary and help provide refuge to domesticated elephants that have been rescued from a life of working in zoos or other establishments. Finally, you can also do conservation work in the island of Palawan in the Philippines, wherein you will assist in the restoration of a mangrove swamp.

As reports have shown, several countries in the ASEAN will be among the most to be most significantly impacted by the climate crisis. Rising sea levels, increasing temperatures, and declining biodiversity are just a few environmental issues that ASEAN countries are facing. On a bright side, we are also seeing many opportunities when it comes to a sustainable energy transition and sustainable finance, to name a few. It is, indeed, a big set of challenges and opportunities we are facing, which is why we need different people and organizations to work together. Green volunteering in the ASEAN is one great way to contribute towards the sustainability agenda.

Clearly, there are many opportunities to choose from in green volunteering in the ASEAN. As Helen Dyer highlighted, volunteerism is the voice of people put into action. As the climate crisis intensifies across the world, we need to translate our voices into action. One way to do this is by participating in green volunteering work.

International Volunteering Day 2021

The International Volunteering Day (IVD) 2021 is coming this December 5, and what better way to celebrate it by highlighting the initiatives taking place across the globe during the pandemic. In 2020, the United Nations (UN) reported that it had 9,459 volunteers hosted by various UN entities. These partners come from 100 different professions, 158 countries of assignment, and served with 60 UN partners worldwide. The UN also received a total of 68,173 online volunteer applications. Despite the impact of the pandemic, this did not stop the volunteers from offering their services.

The theme of IVD 2021 is “Volunteer now for our common future,” which aims to inspire people, whether they are decision makers or citizens, to take action for people and the planet. As IVD 2021 draws near, the ASEAN youth and young professionals are called on to take action and participate in green volunteering across the region.

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