China Daily (Hong Kong)

Impact: Australia’s assurances fail to assuage


James Chin, a professor of Asian Studies at the University of Tasmania in Australia, said Indonesia’s and Malaysia’s concerns are valid, noting that “ASEAN will be the big loser here”.

He said that allowing Australia, one of ASEAN’s nearest neighbors, to obtain nuclear-powered submarines is a “very dangerous thing” and might lead to the acquisitio­n of nuclear weapons and increase tension in the South China Sea.

Australia has not joined the Treaty on the Prohibitio­n of Nuclear Weapons, which requires parties to agree not to develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile or threaten to use nuclear weapons. However, it ratified the Treaty on the Non-Proliferat­ion of Nuclear Weapons in 1973, and the Comprehens­ive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty in 1998.

Chin said that Australia, the UK and the US did not inform ASEAN beforehand that they would be launching a new security agreement that could affect the region.

“They always say that they support

ASEAN centrality, that ASEAN (as an organizati­on) is supposed to decide what happens to the (Southeast Asian) region,” he said.

Mustafa Izzuddin, a senior internatio­nal affairs analyst at Solaris Strategies Singapore, said Indonesia’s and Malaysia’s statements are crucial, as the two nations are among the five founding members of ASEAN. As such, “their views carry weight” in the regional bloc, he said.

He added that AUKUS is “antithetic­al and detrimenta­l” to ASEAN’s efforts to maintain a nuclear-free zone and threatens Southeast Asia’s peace, stability and security within the broader context of the Indo-Pacific region.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, but such assurances failed to assuage concerns among Asian government­s.

Two days after AUKUS was launched, Malaysia’s prime minister expressed his concerns in a phone call with Morrison, stressing the need for ASEAN to remain a zone of peace, freedom and neutrality.

Although Morrison was reported by Australian media to have had a phone talk with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Indonesia canceled a visit by Morrison to Jakarta scheduled for this week. However, local media reported that Indonesian government officials do not believe that the cancellati­on was related to Indonesia’s uneasiness over the AUKUS plan.

Peter Ngeow Chow Bing, deputy director of the Institute of China Studies at the University of Malaya in Malaysia, noted Indonesia’s and Malaysia’s concerns, saying that these countries have a “continuous attachment” to the principle of preserving the Southeast Asian region as a zone of peace, freedom and neutrality.

“They are concerned about the South China Sea and the Southeast Asian (region) in general becoming a battlefiel­d. This is something they would not like to see,” Ngeow said.

Mustafa, the Solaris analyst, said Australia, the UK and the US need to clarify that AUKUS will enhance and not destabiliz­e the “regional architectu­re of the Indo-Pacific”.

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