Phil-BRICS Strategic Studies Position Paper

September 24, 2021

                The focus of the Asia-Pacific region, particularly ASEAN with China, had been surmounting the Covid-19 crisis and preparing for the post-pandemic economic recovery. Geopolitics had been set aside as all issues amongst the regional partners have been resolved through dialogue and negotiations.  Even relations between he superpowers were easing as President Joe Biden phoned President Xi Jinping early September which ended in a conciliatory tone.

                Out of the blue on September 16, 2021 the calm and tranquility of the reginal and global situation was rocked by “Cold War” actions and rhetoric again from a new “defense alliance” called AUKUS that carried with it a contract for 8-nuclear submarine for Australia stolen from under the French. East and West had been tumultuously upset by the AUKUS alliance and deal.

                Of ASEAN’s major South China Sea stakeholders two spoke up against the AUKUS expressing concern over the arms race it will surely drive, Indonesia’s Jokowi Widodo and Singapore’s Lee Hsien Loong expressed a degree of wariness while the rest kept a neutral silence except the Philippines’ Sec. Teodoro Locsin with a convoluted “balance-of-power” mumbo-jumbo justifying his fawning support for the destabilizing AUKUS flouting the overwhelming sentiment of the ASEAN members.

                Locsin claims “enhancement of a near abroad ally’s ability to project power should… keep the balance rather than destabilize…” the situation. He is either blind or simply insensitive to the immediate impact of the AUKUS as ASEAN expresses deep anxiety and France with Europe express fury over the AUKUS “betrayal” and China has immediately declared Australia an “adversary” while charging the AUKUS as “irresponsible” and “provocative”.

                Malaysian elder statesman Mahathir Mohamad has declared that the AUKUS defnse partnership “has escalated the risk of armed conflict in the region. Malaysin defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein quickly planned a China visit to hold consultations with counterparts ther about the AUKUS pact. Locsin has set up the Philippines to be a laughing stock on this AUKUS issue with China charging Locsin for “ignorance” and non-US media portraying Locsin as a usurper of ASEAN’s voice.

                The AUKUS is justified by Western sources as a mere business project, and ASEAN and China are overreacting. The US-UK defense industry stealthily grabbed the French contract to replace income streams from the Afghanistan and Middle East conflicts the US is withdrawing from. On the other hand, this must be seen in the context of the “Asia Pivot” moving 60% of US military forces to “contain Asia’s rise”, certainly not just China, and the heightened U.S. militarization of the Asia-Pacific.

                Locsin’s ignorance shines through in his statement “Absent actual presence of nuclear weapons, we cannot infer violation of the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty (SEANWFZ).” The issue, if he studied it, is nuclear submarine are fueled with “enriched uranium” which can quickly be converted to weapons use – this is the problem bedeviling the deal now. It will constitute violations of the ASEAN Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOOPFAN) and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

                WE call on the Duterte administration to take action to  rectify the serious error of Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin and restore ASEAN consensus on the issue of the AUKUS and its nuclear submarine deal, assuage the sensitivities of our ASEAN neighbors and “comprehensive strategic cooperation partner” China, restore calm and balance to the Asia-Pacific and denounce the AUKUS as an instrument of “Cold War” escalation and containment of the Rise of Asia.

WATCH: AUKUS Impact on the Philippines and ASEAN

Will the Philippines be a factor for peace and prosperity for the region and the world, or a precursor for tension and the “war to end all wars…”?