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Australian trade dependencies on regional powers and ASEAN Forum

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Dr. Hasan Yaser Malik

After WW-II, onceU.S was avowing its worldwide leadership, Beijing was continuing to pursue Deng Xiaoping’s ‘Open Door Policy’ since 1978 to advance diplomatic relations and foreign investment through adoption of the principle of mutual respect.  With a quest for global socio-economic development, Chinese President Xi Jinping introduced the BRI. It is assessed that this Chinese initiative will develop its economy with infrastructure development at the rate of 6000 km per year henceforth reducing the trade time by 12 per cent and trade improvement to 9.7 per cent for 150 BRI member countries.

On the contrary with a view to increase its domination, U.S President Bush, President Bush envisaged and adopted the Preemption Doctrine In September 2002 to enhance U.S. military and economic dominance across the globe. The doctrine allowed the U.S to attack a country even without evidence of threats. However policy implications botched the U.S. efforts as it utilised most of its resources due to wars in Afghanistan and ME, and ultimately leading U.S to lose its military, economic and diplomatic influence. Consequently in 2012 the U.S. was compelled to adopt a different defence strategy only to sustain U.S. global leadership. Main Provisions of the ‘New Defence Strategy’ included the pronouncements to bring down the U.S. defense budget to 987 billion USD forever a decade and shifting 60 percent of U.S naval vessels  to the South Pacific,  to maintain its domination in IOR against the Chinese ‘String of Pearls Strategy’. To strengthen its presence in the Asia Pacific Region in 2007; USA, Australia, Japan and India initiated the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which was later evolved into QUAD by  sharing the vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific to counter Chinese maritime claims. Moreover, again in 2021, another trilateral security pact between Australia, UK and USA (AUKUS) was announced on 15 September 2021 with an aim to help Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines (SSN) at the cost of breaking the Australia-France submarine deal.

In order to enhance its influence in Pacific Island Countries, Beijing concluded the China-Solomon Security Pact in April 2022 to provide security to the Solomon Islands and BRI projects. However, it is being seen as atoll to establish a Chinese naval base between the Second and Third Island Chain in Australia leading to emergence of a 4500 km long Sixth Island Chain from Azores to Trinidad Islands to strategically fix an already ocean trapped by the U.S.

Considering the contemporary Asia Pacific Scenario, it will be challenging for Australia to side with U.S led AUKUS against its dependencies on ASEAN and other Regional Powers which are discussed in succeeding paragraphs. Considering the ever enhancing value of geo-economic global tendencies, it will be relevant to carry out economic analysis first:

Economic Analysis

  • Australian imports from the U.S remained only 10.10 per cent of its total imports in 2021.
  • Australian exports to the U.S remained only 2.53 per cent of its total exports in 2021.
  • Australian imports from Pacific Regional Powers Remained 40.67 percent of its total imports in 2021.
  • Australian exports to Pacific Regional Powers remained 40.53 per cent of its total exports in 2021.
  • Australian imports from ASEAN remained 17.5 per cent of its total imports in 2021.
  • Australian exports to ASEAN remained 4.00 per cent of its total exports in 2021.
  • Australian trade with the U.S remained 8.6 per cent of its total trade in 2021.
  • Australian trade with China remained 26.4 percent of its total trade in 2021.
  • Australian trade with Japan (QUAD Member) remained 27.5 USD more as compared to the U.S in 2021.
  • Australia fulfilled its oil dependencies (88.16 per cent) worth 8.9 billion USD from Singapore, Malaysia, China and South Korea.
  • Australia imported (11.83 per cent) oil worth 1.06 billion USD from the U.S.

Geo-Political Analysis

  • Pacific Regional Powers like Russia, China, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Malaysia and Indonesia have already expressed their concerns over involvement of a SSN in Western Pacific, especially South China Sea (SCS).
  • Australia will require 93 per cent with a weapon grade enriched uranium to run the engines of the SSN.
  • Due to obvious reasons, Japan, despite being a Quad member, is against nuclearisation of the region.
  • Considering the concerns highlighted by regional powers, ASEAN forum and Japan despite being a Quad member, the U.S is pressuring New Zealand to join the AUKUS Dialogue.
  • There is still a dialogue going on in Australia about whether they really need a SSN.
  • Incase New Zealand does not join AUKUS, the next choice will be a non-Anglo Saxon; India.
  • It should be noted that despite being irresponsible to stop the nuclear material smuggling and despite being a non-NPT, India is being backed by the U.S to be a member of the Nuclear Supplier Group.
  • Like Quad etc., AUKUS has also not been institutionalised as it still lacks a secretariat and a legal framework. The first ever document or plan by the Submarine Task Force has to be formulated in March 2023.

Keeping in view the Australian trade dependencies on regional powers and ASEAN Forum combined with its hydrocarbon reliance upon China, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea and geo-political limitations, it will not be comfortable for Australia to remain aloof from the neighboring countries. Considering such facets and possible Indian involvement in to AUKUS, it will be imperative for Pakistan to get the eight promised Chinese Submarines as soon as possible and to formulate a maritime security policy.

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