AUKUS: Indonesia Remains Cautious

The trilateral security alliance known as AUKUS – comprising Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States – has raised concerns as a potential threat to regional security and stability. Indonesia has advanced several reasons for its wariness of AUKUS, including increased militarisation in the Indo-Pacific region, nuclear proliferation, potential reactions and retaliation from China, and concerns about maintaining neutrality. The agreement announced two years ago in September 2021, involves the deployment of nuclear-powered submarines – a response to China’s strategic moves in the Indo-Pacific. On one hand, Indonesia must exercise caution, since supporting a nuclear agreement could jeopardise its bilateral ties with China. On the other hand, Indonesia now finds itself exposed and vulnerable due to its geographic position. It is worth noting that since the announcement of the grouping two years ago, reports indicate that “Malaysia and Indonesia (have) tamped down their opposition to the deal”1, recognising the potential benefits it could bring to Indonesia’s defence2.


Notwithstanding any benefits, the situation remains a significant geopolitical challenge for Indonesia due to the potential ramifications of allowing nuclear submarines in Indonesian waters. According to several media sources (Sydney Morning Herald, ABC Breakfast, East Asia Forum), a senior Indonesian official stated that “the country’s sea lanes should not be used by Australian nuclear-propelled submarines because “AUKUS was created for fighting” 3,4,5. Singapore and Malaysia share similar concerns. Indonesia’s nonalignment stance in the China-US rivalry is the primary reason for its reluctance to allow AUKUS submarines into its waters. However, it is reasonable to infer that if Indonesia had been actively consulted throughout the AUKUS process and provided with assurances and guarantees, its stance might have been different. While it may not have eliminated all of Indonesia’s concerns, this may have provided some reassurance regarding foreign submarines operating in its waters. For now, however, concerns about regional stability and the preservation of neutrality weigh heavily on Indonesia’s geopolitical positioning.

[1] Storey, Ian., & Choong, William., (2023), “The AUKUS Announcement and Southeast Asia: An Assessment of Regional Responses and Concerns”, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, No. 23.

[2] Sambhi, Natalie., (2023), “Indonesia and AUKUS: Steady Pragmatism at Work”, Asia-Pacific Leadership Network, September 13. Retrieved:

[3] Rothwell, Donald., (2023), “AUKUS Navigational Rights are Submerged in Regional Challenges”, East Asia Forum, June 7. Retrieved:

[4] Barrett, Chris., & Rompies, Karuni., (2023), “‘AUKUS Created for Fighting’: Push for Indonesia to Refuse Access to Subs”, The Sydney Morning Herald, March 14. Retrieved:

[5] Karvelas, Patricia., (2023). “Australia-China relationship”, (Interview Transcript), ABC RN Breakfast, March 15, (Radio Interview). Retrieved:


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