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Interview

McMaster says ASEAN should welcome AUKUS alliance and Quad

Former general urges region to 'amplify Taiwan's voice' and block China from CPTPP

H.R. McMaster, Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, speaks to Nikkei on Friday.

TOKYO -- U.S. reentry into "arenas of competition" through structures such as AUKUS and the Quad should give Asian countries the confidence to stand up to China, H.R. McMaster, Donald Trump's former national security adviser, told Nikkei.

The "[AUKUS] alliance is to deter China's aggression," the retired lieutenant general said in an online interview in reference to the new security pact between U.S., the U.K. and Australia. A key aspect of AUKUS is that it will grant Canberra access to nuclear submarine technology.

"All of the ASEAN countries should be for that," said McMaster of the mixed response from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to AUKUS. Indonesia and Malaysia expressed concern about escalating the standoff between the U.S. and China, while Singapore welcomed the announcement.

"It's time for countries to stop paying lip service because it enables this reversal of the truth" by Beijing's leadership, McMaster said.

Facing their own territorial disputes with China, "ASEAN countries should understand better than anybody the threat to their sovereignty and ought to welcome stronger Australian defense capability that fits into a security architecture around the South China Sea," he added.

McMaster spoke with Nikkei ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden's first in-person meeting with the leaders of Australia, India and Japan -- the three other nations in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad.

"It's important for leaders in India and Australia to say what we're facing is not a choice between Washington and Beijing," said McMaster. "It's a choice between sovereignty and servitude."

Former U.S. President Donald Trump walks to Marine One with thenn National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster as they depart for a trip to Miami from the White House on June 16, 2017   © Reuters

McMaster welcomed discussions on Japan's defense capabilities in the campaign to replace Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Developing surface-to-surface strike capabilities that would deter Chinese leaders from using force to accomplish their objectives would be defensive, not offensive, argued McMaster. "If you think of missile defense as shooting down the arrows, you can only do that with so many arrows. Ultimately, you have to also be able to strike the archer."

McMaster's second book, "Battlegrounds," is less a memoir of his turbulent 13 months in the White House than prescriptions for the foreign policy challenges facing the U.S. Translated into Japanese this month, it outlines McMaster's strategies to correct decades of flawed assumptions about America's adversaries and the interest of its allies, or what he calls "strategic narcissism."

U.S. strategy was hampered, in McMaster's view, by the flawed assumption that China would play by international rules and liberalize as it prospered. "Of course, that hasn't happened because of the emotions and ideology that drive and constrain the Chinese Communist Party leadership," he told Nikkei.

McMaster predicts the standoff between the two great powers will be a long-term competition, which would require investments that American voters and politicians may not be willing to make. Anti-trade sentiment in both Republican and Democratic Party bases, for example, will likely preclude a U.S. return to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) agreement.

"Bilateral relationships can move forward [through] trade agreements like the Japan-U.S. agreement," McMaster said, adding that similar deals could be reached with Thailand and Vietnam based on principles already negotiated through the CPTPP's forerunner, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Considering global dependence on Taiwan for semiconductor and electronics, McMaster welcomed the possibility of including Taiwan in the CPTPP while blocking China's recent application.

"Whenever a country or Taiwan comes under coercive pressure from China, we all ought to do everything we can to alleviate that pressure and amplify Taiwan's voice in international forums," he said.

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