AUKUS fits into a growing network of minilaterials crisscrossing the Indo-Pacific and rooted in shared strategic interests.
There has been a boom in the number of minilateral partnerships in the Indo-Pacific in recent years, all arguably complementing each other with a shared sense of purpose.But the long-term goal of AUKUS is complementary to the Quad and other minilateral partnerships – including trilaterals like Australia-India-Japan, India-Japan-U.S., Australia-India-Indonesia, Australia-France-India, and India-Italy-Japan – in the region. While some of these trilaterals are only among the Quad countries, others involve non-Quad countries in an effort to bring more partners into the Quad’s orbit by expanding and involving partners which share similar regional strategic interests. AUKUS in that respect is no different. The current efforts at building larger number of coalitions with shared political ideals and strategic interests has the net effect of generating larger political and strategic consensus. These are important milestones. Additionally, if these partnerships can build up military power in a decisive way as effective deterrent against China, such steps need to be welcomed. A militarily capable Australia is in India’s interests as well as that of the wider region. The Philippines came out with one of the more substantive responses to how AUKUS corrects the regional strategic imbalance. Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. in a statement said that “The Philippines welcomes Australia’s decision to establish an enhanced trilateral security partnership with the United States primarily and the United Kingdom.” He went on to add that “there is an imbalance in the forces available to the ASEAN member states, with the main balancer more than half a world away. The enhancement of a near abroad ally’s ability to project power should restore and keep the balance rather than destabilize it.” Among the other ASEAN countries, the response to AUKUS appears to be mixed. Malaysia, for instance, has decided to send its defense minister to China to understand the Chinese reaction to AUKUS. This is despite the fact that Malaysia and many of the South China Sea countries have been complaining about multiple breaches of air and naval spaces by China. Just this summer, commenting on Chinese military aircraft flying over disputed waters off its eastern state of Sarawak, Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the planes were in “breach of the Malaysian airspace and sovereignty.” Malaysia has thus had a somewhat confusing approach in its dealings with China and the emerging strategic partnerships in the region. Malaysia also has close ties with Australia, recently enhancing their relationship to a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership,” which also makes its reaction to AUKUS surprising.
AUKUS is a significant step towards managing the geopolitical turbulence in the Indo-Pacific, and it will complement, not diminish the importance of Quad.Nevertheless, there are skeptics in Indian strategic circles as well. For instance, a former naval chief, Admiral Arun Prakash, complained that AUKUS is an exclusive club that has left out two of the Quad members – India and Japan. On the other hand, it makes very little sense for every minilateral to include every single Quad member. As Sreemoy Talukdar aptly wrote, “AUKUS is a significant step towards managing the geopolitical turbulence in the Indo-Pacific, and it will complement, not diminish the importance of Quad.” AUKUS is an important development because it signifies the capability augmentation of one of India’s closest strategic partners, with whom it has just started a 2+2 ministerial dialogue. A strong and capable Australia is in India’s interests, that of the Quad and the broader Indo-Pacific region. It is also significant because the U.K., after going back and forth on China, is now firmly entrenched in the Indo-Pacific in countering China.
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Dr Rajeswari (Raji) Pillai Rajagopalan is the Director of the Centre for Security, Strategy and Technology (CSST) at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. Dr ...Read More +