Authors: Aditya Ristanto and Muhammad Rayhan Faqih Syahfa*
The United States and China Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific Region
Last year, the Biden administration announced the Australia, United Kingdom and the United States (AUKUS) trilateral security partnership. The partnership covers many areas, including quantum technology, artificial intelligence (AI), cyber technology, hypersonic and counter-hypersonic technology, electronic warfare and other innovations. However, an interesting point in the AUKUS trilateral security cooperation is the realization of eight nuclear-powered submarines, which Australia will possess before 2040.
Beijing, on the other hand, has a firm stance against the establishment of the partnership, which was supported by the United States, calling the cooperation a provocative act, threatening regional stability, and hinting that Australia wants to become a new actor, who wants to have Nuclear Weapons in the Indo-Pacific Region.
It doesn’t stop here. Washington is also a member of the informal strategic dialogue with Australia, India, and Japan called The Quad, whose main goal is to create an open, free, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. Recently, the Quad launched IPDMA or Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness, which provides real-time, integrated maritime domain awareness with a satellite-based tracking system that can fully monitor the waters in the territorial sea, especially in the South China Sea. The system allows the United States and its partners to monitor illegal fishing activities in the Indo-Pacific region. At the same time, it is argued that China does 95% of the illegal fishing in the South China Sea. The system can even detect illegal fishing vessels that deliberately turn off the transponder as a tool to track the movement of vessels.
Meanwhile, China is also trying to expand its military, economic and political diplomacy influence in the Indo-Pacific region, especially in the countries of the Pacific Island region. One of them was the signing of a security pact between China and the Solomon Islands on April 19, 2022, which became an alarm, especially for the United States. US Department of State spokesman Ned Price responded, “the broadly cooperative nature of the security agreement could open the door for PRC (People’s Republic of China) military forces to enter the Solomon Islands.”
In addition, Washington explicitly responded to China’s security agreement with the Solomon Islands by establishing the US-Pacific Summit in September 2022. In addition, Washington has pledged to add $810 million in aid to Pacific Island nations over the next decade to address issues such as climate change. , economic growth, and natural disasters. However, Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele said the Solomon Islands nation would only agree to sign a deal with the United States after indirect references to China were removed. Jeremiah Manele responded: “There were some references that put us in a position where we had to choose sides, and we didn’t want to be put in a position where we had to choose sides.”
The trilateral security cooperation of AUKUS and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) is an extension of the “Indo-Pacific Strategy of the United States”. However, the two collaborations say that the objectives of establishing AUKUS and IPMDA of QUAD are to maintain security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. Nevertheless, the exclusion of China from the cooperation makes it easy to understand the real motive for forming AUKUS and the QUAD, which was an effort to balance the growing influence of Beijing in the Indo-Pacific region.
Indonesia in the middle of the escalating Indo-Pacific conflict.
Regarding the free and active foreign policy, Indonesia continues efforts to de-escalate the conflict and increase cooperation in conflict resolution efforts and does not express full support for the two partnerships. Indonesia is afraid that the worst case scenario can happen if all the parties involved are not careful in determining their foreign policy.
The existence of AUKUS and IPMDA to counter China’s sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific provokes China as an emerging superpower. Meanwhile, Indonesia has several short-term and long-term consequences of the tensions that occur due to Indonesia’s position at the heart of the Indo-Pacific region.
Australia, with nuclear-powered submarines, is becoming a new nuclear-armed actor in the Indo-Pacific region. It can trigger jealousy that causes other countries in the region to develop nuclear weapons technology and violate the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
Furthermore, the existence of Australian nuclear-powered submarines that later pass through the ASEAN region will violate the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ) agreement. Australia’s nuclear submarine and the role of US allies and China in the region will challenge ASEAN member states to respond to the significantly increased power of US allies and China in the Indo-Pacific.
In the long term, both forms of cooperation and China’s response could provoke a security dilemma in the Indo-Pacific region. If conditions worsen, the countries in the Indo-Pacific will be forced to side with the two great competing powers; the United States and China. Other than that, the increased potential for an arms race in the region will force Indonesia and other Indo-Pacific countries to further modernize and expand their military capacity. If the situation continues to escalate, the Indo-Pacific region will face political tensions similar to what happened earlier during the Cold War.
The free and active policy of Indonesia in response to the potential threats in the Indo-Pacific
Retno Marsudi, Foreign Minister of Indonesia, responded to the existence of AUKUS by reminding us that no party wants an arms race and power projection that can threaten stability and security in the region. She also said that every country must adopt a new paradigm in the form of multilateralism cooperation in accordance with the time conditions and goals of each nation, which can have a concrete impact on the realization of security and peace in the world.
Considering that Indonesia is one of the largest countries in ASEAN, the steps of the Indonesian government will have a significant impact on the creation of stability or conflicts that occur in the region. Meanwhile, more than a year after the establishment of AUKUS, Indonesia’s response to potential threats is nothing more than public narratives expressing the dangers of conflict escalation and calling for upholding the values of peace and international cooperation.
Explore more deeply related to Indonesia’s free and active foreign policy. Many misunderstandings think that Indonesia’s free and active foreign policy means that Indonesia must take a stand and be neutral towards all conflicts that occur in the world.
Meanwhile, the former first vice president of Indonesia, Mohammad Hatta’s speech in “Paddling Between Two Corals”, explained that the free and active foreign policy of Indonesia in the context and in accordance with the philosophical and constitutional foundations of the Indonesian state, Pancasila and the 1945 must be understood. Constitution.
The importance of Indonesia’s steadfastness and alignment with world peace and humanity is the sacred mandate in the fourth paragraph of the opening of the 1945 Constitution, which reads, “participate in the execution of the world order, which through freedom, eternal peace is, and social justice.”
Best efforts for Indonesia
Now is the time for Indonesia to recognize the relevance of security issues in the Indo-Pacific region. Indonesia must try to prevent the worst scenario through the cause of political power involving the United States and China in the region. Therefore, Indonesia must be more careful in designing its future foreign policy.
In dealing with tensions and threats of conflict in the Indo-Pacific region, Indonesia’s diplomacy in the future must be able to carefully read the world’s geopolitical developments and be more assertive. Indonesia must take a firm stance to reduce the escalation of the conflict and try to prevent the countries in the Indo-Pacific region from being carried away by political unrest, which will lead to countries in the Indo-Pacific region having to face the condition for Choosing sides as the consequences of the increased rivalry between the United States and China in the region.
In addition, Indonesia currently has no special institution to determine strategic policies related to national security. Indonesia’s national security council must be formed as soon as possible. For the reason that it is crucial for Indonesia to formulate its national security policy with comprehensive decision and integrated policy formulation.
In addition, Indonesia’s foreign policy has so far not had any influence on the de-escalation of conflicts and tensions in the region. Indonesia’s assertiveness needs to be shown more concretely. If necessary, Indonesia must be a pioneer in building a movement with Indo-Pacific countries, especially the major countries in ASEAN and countries in the Pacific Islands, which have the spirit and character to uphold the value of world peace, similar to the Non-Aligned Movement that existed during the Cold War as a symbol of concern about potential threats that could endanger the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific region.
*Muhammad Rayhan Faqih Syahfa is a Masters student in the Security and Strategic Studies program at Macquarie University whose research focuses on strategic security studies.