24 setembro 2021

“West” meets “East”, again – the AUKUS Security Pact

By Julia Cirne Lima Weston.
LL.M in International Law at University College London, Moot Court Coach and International Law researcher.

The South China Sea has been an area of instability for the last years. In the region, claimants (China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei) as well as other powers such as the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, meet in often tense incidents. Those are differently interpreted by the different parties involved and often perceived as provocations by the different sides.

A notable latest incident is the AUKUS Security Pact. The Pact, signed between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America on 15 September, is seen as a way of countering China.[1] The pact entails sharing of cyber and undersea technology, as well as the transfer of nuclear-powered submarines using US technology to Australia.[2]

China’s spokesman Zhao Lijian has said that the AUKUS Pact and cooperation on nuclear-powered submarine technology between its countries “will gravely undermine regional peace and stability, aggravate arms race and impair international nuclear non-proliferation efforts”.[3] Zhao also said that the Pact goes against the region’s countries’ interests and that AUKUS countries should ‘discard their Cold War’ mentality.[4]

China does not appear to be the only apprehensive country about AUKUS. Southeast Asian nations have been cautious regarding expressing their support for or condemning the Pact, seeking not to get involved in the rivalry between China and the AUKUS countries.[5] Out of all ASEAN States, by the launch of the Pact, only Singapore had pronounced itself favourably to the initiative.[6]

The Philippines, however, have expressed its support to the Pact as a way of addressing the ‘military imbalance’ in the region.[7] Malaysia and Indonesia, on the other hand, have not yet given up their concerns.[8] Both States’ Foreign Ministries have pronounced themselves in a sense that they are concerned that the Pact will cause provocations and more tensions in the region, as well as a new arms race.[9]

France felt excluded from the Pact, and even angrier because Australia pulled out of a contract with it in the process.[10] That is because AUKUS presupposed that Australia would cancel its 56 billion euro-worth contract with France to buy 12 French diesel-powered submarines.[11] According to the president of the French National Assembly, AUKUS ‘tarnished’ the friendship and trust between France, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia, and made trust more difficult amongst these countries.[12] French Ambassadors were called out from the United States and Australia in the process.[13] After a call between French and US leaders, however, it was decided that the French Ambassador to the US would be returned to the US.[14]

France is not the only non-Southeast Asian nation to respond a tad differently to the AUKUS Pact. New Zealand, for instance, has not taken part in the Pact.[15] It will also ban the transit of the AUKUS’ nuclear-powered submarines from its waters, due to a nuclear-free policy which precedes the Pact.[16] The European Union reacted in surprise to the launch of AUKUS.[17] Its Foreign Policy Chief said that the EU ‘regretted not having been informed’ about it and expressed his understanding about France’s disappointment.[18]

AUKUS is definitely a relevant novelty to consider when accompanying further developments in the South China Sea. Seen as groundbreakingly positive by some and with concern by others, there will still be plenty to talk about regarding the newborn Pact. Something that also must not be ignored was that the Pact was made without the consultation of relevant powers such as NATO and the EU, which may come as an obstacle for it in the future in terms of its practical application and overall support. The absence of New Zealand, a neighboring country to Australia, is also a considerable event.

The South China Sea region is no stranger to conflict. Much to the contrary, it has taken the global stage many times in the last couple of years. AUKUS has the undoubtable potential of fueling tensions in the region, mainly between China and the ‘West’ (albeit a much fragmented West) and whoever chooses to follow it. Following this new ‘West meets East’ event, only time will tell how AUKUS will impact the region in practical terms.


Cover Image Available at:

[1] BBC. Aukus: UK, US and Australia launch pact to counter China. Available at: <>.

[2] ibid.

[3] EMBASSY OF THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA IN INDONESIA. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian’s Regular Press Conference on September 22, 2021. Available at: <>.

[4] ibid.

[5] RADIO FREE ASIA. Southeast Asian Nations Cautious Over New AUKUS Defense Pact. Available at: <>.

[6] ibid.

[7] RADIO FREE ASIA. Philippines Throws Support Behind AUKUS Pact. Available at: <>.

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid.

[10] BBC. Aukus: France pulls out of UK defence talks amid row. Available at <>.

[11] THE GUARDIAN. Aukus pact: France to send ambassador back to US after Macron-Biden call. Available at: <>.

[12] SKY NEWS. AUKUS pact has ‘tarnished’ friendship between France and UK, US and Australia, French National Assembly president says. Available at: <>.

[13] ibid.

[14] THE GUARDIAN. Aukus pact: France to send ambassador back to US after Macron-Biden call. Available at: <>.

[15] THE GUARDIAN. Aukus submarines banned from New Zealand as pact exposes divide with western allies. Available at: <>.

[16] ibid.

[17] DEUTSCHE WELLE. EU unveils Indo-Pacific strategy in response to US-led pact. Available at: <>.

[18] ibid.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap