3 August 2022
Indonesia challenges AUKUS
Ahead of the United Nations’ tenth conference on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT), Indonesia has expressed concern over the use of highly enriched uranium for naval propulsion. In a leaked draft of its submission to the UN, Indonesia argued that sharing nuclear technology for military purposes contradicts the spirit and objective of the NPT, even if it’s not for the development of nuclear weapons themselves. Although it is not named, the AUKUS agreement between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom to build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines is the only such known proposal between states and is clearly the subject of Jakarta’s critique.
Alongside concerns it raises about nuclear proliferation, AUKUS is also viewed as part of the wider strategic competition between the United States and China which Indonesia sees as a potentially destabilising force.
Jakarta’s concern is that the move by states to seek a credible deterrent to aggressive behaviour risks creating an arms race that enhances insecurity. Indonesia is signalling that it fears AUKUS falls into the latter category of a dangerous escalation of destructive capabilities. Although these fears should also acknowledge China’s massive recent military build-up.
Indonesia is also worried that a naval arms race might leave it behind as it continues to focus its resources on internal development. As a vast array of islands, Indonesia has the potential to become a major naval power, and it has significant maritime interests that are being challenged in the South China Sea. An arms race that Indonesia cannot yet compete in makes these interests more difficult to defend.
Voting concluded in Papua New Guinea’s general election on 22 July. The election has been chaotic, with counting centres attacked, ballot boxes destroyed, ballots set on fire, electoral roll discrepancies, armed groups chasing voters from polling stations, and politically motivated violence that has led to dozens of deaths. Counting remains ongoing as the original dates for the official declaration of successful candidates was initially pushed back by two weeks, but then revised to just a week.
The manner in which the election has been conducted will only further undermine public distrust of the electoral system and may harm the legitimacy of the new government. This should be of grave concern for Australia. Prior to the election, Australia was involved in training PNG security forces, as well as assisting the PNG electoral commission with some of its planning. Yet this assistance has proved ineffective. Australia needs to walk a fine line between offering assistance and avoiding the perception of being paternalistic and undermining PNG’s self-determination.
The difficulties that persist with PNG’s elections suggest there may be bigger problems to address than just logistics. There is the question of whether a Westminster parliamentary system is effective for a country of such enormous complexity, where local allegiances far outweigh any collective sense of nationhood, producing a weak party system that struggles to create effective governments and a sense of legitimacy. Although, it is difficult to see what other models might best accommodate PNG’s unique political and social conditions.
Pelosi and Taiwan
Taiwan’s status, and the role it plays in the strategic competition between the United States and China, is being amplified this week with a visit to the island by the speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. While previous visits to Taiwan by US officials have been greeted with a stern rebuke from the Chinese embassy in Washington, a high-profile figure such as Pelosi visiting Taiwan has aggravated Beijing more than usual, with it announcing a series of military operations and warning of “serious consequences”.
Pelosi’s visit is a sign that officials from the US and elsewhere are tiring of the ambiguous status of Taiwan as a state and its inability to be recognised as such – except by those who choose not to diplomatically recognise Beijing. Last week, a delegation of Japanese MPs – including a former defence minister – visited the island to meet with President Tsai Ing-wen. Last year, former prime minister Tony Abbott also met with Tsai in Taipei.
While Pelosi’s visit could be seen as needlessly antagonistic – potentially destabilising the status quo that the United States seeks to defend – the emotional investment that China’s president, Xi Jinping, has placed on incorporating Taiwan into China has made the issue more difficult for Beijing. The nationalism that the Chinese Communist Party has used to consolidate its power domestically also binds it to a potentially unachievable objective, compounding the sense of humiliation it feels when foreign political leaders seek to show solidarity with the Taiwanese people.