Thursday, September 30, 2021

Asia's Deputy Sheriff is back

The Star:

Asean nations caught in a quandary


AUSTRALIA’S moniker of “deputy sheriff” is back in circulation again with last week’s announcement of the Aukus trilateral military alliance involving the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.

The agreement, under which the US and the UK would provide Australia the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines for the first time, was declared in a joint virtual press conference by US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian PM Scott Morrison on Sept 15.The three Anglo Saxon nations declared that the new deal is meant to protect and defend shared interests in the Indo-Pacific amid “regional security concerns which had grown significantly”.

The epithet “deputy sheriff of the US” first gained infamy 22 years ago when then Australian PM John Howard used it in an interview to describe the country’s projected role in regional peacekeeping.

In an interview with The Bulletin magazine, he defined Australia as a medium-sized, economically strong regional power, “acting in a deputy role to the US in maintaining peace”.

He also said Australia had a responsibility within its region to do things “above and beyond”, bringing into play its unique characteristics as a Western country in Asia.

The remarks led to both ridicule at home and diplomatic backlash from regional leaders who rebuked Australia for taking orders from the United States while being geographically closer to Asia. History repeats itself often, and Australia’s partnership in Aukus has brought the focus back on that lackey image.

Besides drawing indignation from China, which condemned the deal as “extremely irresponsible, narrow-minded and severely damaging regional peace”, Aukus – the abbreviation representing the initials of the three countries – has also ruffled feathers within Asean and divided the 10-member grouping.

Based on the reactions over the past few days, two camps have emerged. Malaysia and Indonesia are clearly opposed to it on the grounds that it would unsettle the region. Thailand, a traditional US ally which has a close economic relationship with China, is also of the view that the security pact would undermine stability.

On the opposite side, the Philippines has taken a totally contrary stand. It has declared support, with its foreign minister Teodoro Locsin arguing that Aukus would address the imbalance in the forces available to the Asean member states and that the enhancement of Australia’s military capacity would be beneficial in the long term.

Vietnam, which recently hosted US vice-president Kamala Harris, has not commented on the pact although its spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang offered this ambiguous response: “All countries strive for the same goal.”

Meanwhile, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has stated that the city state is “not unduly anxious” about the new strategic alliance because of its longstanding relationship with the three countries.

The four other countries in the grouping have been largely silent on the issue.

Malaysia was swift and forthright in making its position clear. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob warned that Aukus would spark a nuclear arms race and provoke other powers to act more aggressively in the region, especially in the South China Sea.

In his phone call to Morrison, he also raised the importance of abiding by existing positions on nuclear-powered submarines operating in Malaysia’s waters, including rules under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS) and the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (SEANWFZ).

The questions being asked now are: How will China react to Aukus? Will it intensify the arms technology race in the region by increasing military expenditure for its navy or create more missile launch facilities, also known as underground missile silos, for the storage and launching of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)?

That is what is being predicted by the hawks in the US military establishment, who have been consistently exaggerating China’s supposed military threat.

Among the talk is that China would boost the number of missile silos to 100 over the next two decades. For the record, the US already has at least 450 such facilities.

It is no secret that China has been building up its navy although it is still a long way from matching the marine power of the United States or the United Kingdom with just two aircraft carriers and a third still under construction. In comparison, the United States has 11 aircraft carriers and the United Kingdom two, but only one has been commissioned.

The US has 72 submarines – all nuclear-powered – compared with China’s 56, out of which only six are nuclear-powered.

With the entry of this newfangled military pact, Asean nations are now caught in a quandary. The quest for a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality in South-East Asia (Zopfan) declared on Nov 27, 1971, when the world was in the midst of a Cold War between the US and its Western allies and the USSR, looks like a distant dream today.

Zopfan was mainly aimed at preventing the world’s big powers from competing for influence and military prowess in the region.

The concept was inspired by the UN’s principles of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, abstention from threat or use of force, peaceful settlement of international disputes, equal rights and self-determination, and non-interference in the affairs of member states.

But as Dr Laura Southgate, a specialist in South-East Asian regional security and international relations, highlighted in a recent article in The Diplomat, Aukus has clearly exposed Asean’s lack of cohesion.

As she put it, driven by different threat perceptions and geo-strategic interests, it had become very difficult for Asean member nations to speak with one voice, although many states hope to maintain a balance between China and the US and its allies.

Media consultant M. Veera Pandiyan likes this observation by Niccolò Machiavelli: “Wars begin when you will, but they do not end when you please.” The views expressed here are the writer’s own


  1. It seems Malaysia is NOT opposed to missile-armed artificial islands being built within missile range of Kota Kinabalu, Kucing and Kuala Lampur.
    And Malaysia does not object to foreign navies interfering with its oil exploration ships within its EEZ.

    So why all the brou hou ha about Australian nuclear powered submarines?

    1. "... foreign navies interfering with its oil exploration ships within its EEZ"???

      wakakaka , your kerbau has exceeded plausibility


      PUBLISHED: NOVEMBER 25, 2020

      The China Coast Guard (CCG) and Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) are involved in another standoff over hydrocarbon exploration in the South China Sea. China Coast Guard ship 5402 harassed a drilling rig and its supply ships operating just 44 nautical miles from Malaysia’s Sarawak State on November 19. Malaysia deployed a naval vessel in response, which continues to tail the 5402. The incident seems to have followed two weeks of increasing tensions between the CCG and RMN in the area. An analysis of AIS data from Marine Traffic and satellite imagery from Planet Labs reveals this high-stakes game of chicken that would otherwise have remained under the radar.

      CCG 5402 left Hainan on October 30 for what has become a standard Chinese patrol route. It stopped at China’s artificial island bases on Subi and Fiery Cross Reefs before taking up station at Luconia Shoals in Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone on November 2. CCG ships have maintained a nearly constant presence there in recent years, facilitated by the nearby logistics hubs in the Spratlys. On November 10, the 5402 patrolled the oil and gas blocks west of Luconia Shoals, passing by the Sapura Constructor, an offshore construction ship operating in the area. The RMN’s Bunga Mas Lima, a naval auxiliary ship that had left Sabah a day earlier, arrived at Luconia Shoals hours later and shadowed the 5402 for at least a few days. Its AIS broadcasts were spotty during this period, but a satellite image from November 13 shows the ships just 3 nautical miles apart.

      On November 12, the 5402 headed 40 nautical miles east of Luconia Shoals for a quick patrol before returning to its post. It seems to have been attracted by the arrival of a new jackup rig, Borr Drilling’s Gunnlod, which had been towed to that location just days earlier and was being serviced by two offshore supply ships: the Lewek Plover and JM Abadi. Satellite imagery from November 18 shows the rig and JM Abadi operating undisturbed.

      The Gunnlod is operating in block SK410B, exploring for natural gas under a contract with Thailand’s PTT Exploration and Production (PTTEP). The company made its largest ever discovery a few miles south of the Gunnlod’s current location in 2019. The 5402 returned to the area on November 19 and approached to within 2 nautical miles of the rig, presumably warning it to cease operations as the CCG has in other recent cases involving Malaysian and Vietnamese offshore drilling.

      At just over 40 nautical miles from Sarawak, this is the closest to shore AMTI has ever documented such Chinese harassment. The Bunga Mas Lima was still patrolling the area and would remain near Luconia Shoals for another two days. But within hours the RMN deployed a second ship—the more capable KD Keris, which steamed straight from Sabah to the Gunnlod. Ironically, the Keris is the first of a new class of littoral mission ships built for Malaysia in 2018 by a subsidiary of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation. The Keris stayed near the rig for about a day before following the 5402 back to Luconia Shoals. The two ships maneuvered around each other there for several days. When the 5402 went for another patrol to the west of Luconia Shoals on November 24, the Keris followed.

      As of November 25, the Gunnlod remains on site at Block SK410B and the 5402 has not returned. Recent history suggests China could escalate the standoff with further deployments. But it might also deescalate, recognizing that harassment of drilling operations so close to Malaysian shores is a significant provocation. And this comes at a particularly sensitive time for Kuala Lumpur, with the shaky government of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin facing a potential no-confidence vote next week when it presents its annual budget to Parliament.


      You had to hear from foreign organisations and foreign media about foreign navies interfering with Malaysian oil exploration ships within its EEZ - total silence , no objection from Malaysia Government.

      Of course , one -sided Kangkung writers like KT and Lim Teck Ghee regard this as Kerbau. Red Cocksuckers.

    4. "missile-armed artificial islands being built within missile range of Kota Kinabalu, Kucing and Kuala Lampur"

      What a series of blurred factoids coming out from a know-nothing rumour mongering dickhead!

      How many r there?

      How about that of the m'sia built layang-layang atoll that initiated the subsequent artificial island buildings within the SChinaSea?

      Never hear of layang-layang?


    5. Another rounds of m'sia EEZ infringement factoid AGAIN by those mfering dickheads!