Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday (27/10) sought to reassure Southeast Asian leaders at a virtual summit that the Australia, UK and US security pact or AUKUS does not amount to the acquisition of nuclear weapons and does not constitute a security threat.
The trilateral pact agreed last month between Australia, Britain and the United States, under which Australia will acquire nuclear-powered submarines, has added to fears of an arms race in Southeast Asia.
Morrison further said, “Australia will provide $124 million to finance a joint project known by ASEAN and Australia, to address the complex challenges that arise. These challenges include, COVID-19 recovery, terrorism, transnational crime, energy security and transition to low-emission technologies, a circular economy, and of course, our healthy oceans.”
Specifically regarding the Pact of Australia, Great Britain and America or known as AUKUS, Morrison added, “This determination is stronger than ever. AUKUS adds to our network of partnerships that support regional stability and security. Australia remains firmly committed to international law and a rules-based order that underpins regional stability and prosperity and on which all ASEAN members depend. Australia does not want and will not seek nuclear weapons, as I stressed to all ASEAN members. We will continue to fulfill all of our obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Australia and ASEAN are good neighbors and natural partners in the center of the Indo Pacific.”
Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he was concerned the agreement could “spark competition” in the region, according to his foreign minister, Retno Marsudi. The Philippines supports AUKUS but its president, Rodrigo Duterte, said AUKUS “must complement and not complicate the way we work together.”
Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi stated, “The second thing the President conveyed was Indonesia’s concern over the formation of AUKUS and the development of Australian nuclear-powered submarines which could trigger tension and high competition in the region. So Indonesia hopes that Australia will continue to open up to ASEAN and become ASEAN’s partner in creating peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo Pacific region.”
Morrison also proposed strengthening ties to the level of a comprehensive strategic partnership (CSP), which would make Australia the first country to agree to such a deal with ASEAN. [ps/jm]