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From deputy sheriff to lone ranger: the loneliness of the US alliance

By Murray Hunter - posted Thursday, 6 April 2023

The US-Australia defence alliance has put Australia out of synch with South-East Asia. This is shrinking Australia’s self-perception of being a middle power. The country is becoming more isolated and alone in the region, while neighbours are engaging China.

While Australia continues to expand the US alliance with AUKUS, along with Britain, which has military-centric objectives, China and Asia are enhancing multi-dimensional ties.

South East Asia under the sphere of China


ASEAN and China are following a roadmap called the ASEAN-China comprehensive strategic partnership, aimed at developing a peaceful co-existence, establishing dispute mechanisms, upholding a code of conduct for the South China Sea, and increasing trade and cultural ties. ASEAN and China are enhancing the ASEAN Free Trade Zone, as part of the partnership, while the Belt and Road Initiative continues to roll out across the region.

China has agreed to sign the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone agreement, which has been in force since 1997, and obliges the 10 ASEAN member states ‘not to develop, manufacture of otherwise acquire, posses or have control over nuclear weapons, station or transport nuclear weapons by any means’. China and the Philippines have reiterated their agreement to jointly develop the South China Sea in partnership. China and Vietnam are working on resolving their mutual differences , and have agreed upon a number of protocols. Indonesia is also expanding their economic relations with China, while the economies of Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos are closely connected with China. Malaysia has stated that its ready to negotiate with China over its South China Sea disputes .

This is quickly turning South East Asia into a completely different vista, than it was just a few years ago. China has deepened the sphere of influence with trade, assistance, and investment initiatives, and develop new frameworks to sort of differences between the nations of the region.

For South East Asian nations, China has been present within the region for one thousand years, and played integral roles in respective histories. The US presence in the region began only in the beginning of the 20th Century with the colonization of the Philippines. This increased through WWII, the Korean, and Vietnam conflicts, where the US has now built up a ring of military bases, which encircle China.

China and Russia forced together

In Europe, Russia has been dealing with NATO expansion towards its borders. From both Chinese and Russian worldviews, this is perceived as an existential threat. This is the Monroe Doctrine in reverse, which has driven China and Russia together.


US defence policy is no longer developed and managed from within the White House. Now US foreign policy has an uncompromising element running through it; best observed with the US refusing to seek and negotiate any ceasefire and peace deal in Ukraine. The US has forsaken the art of diplomacy as a policy option, maintaining policy rigidity. Many believe this stance is exacerbating conflict. Some European allies are starting to question their commitment to the Ukraine conflict.

In addition, the botched US withdrawal from Afghanistan has decreased European trust in the United States commitment to them.

Chinese and Russian collaboration is increasing exponentially, since the Ukraine conflict began, where the US and allies placed sanctions upon Ruusia.

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This article was first published on Murray Hunter.

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About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis. He blogs at Murray Hunter.

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