SINGAPORE — Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has welcomed Australia’s assurance that its new defence pact with the US and the UK (AUKUS) aims to promote a “stable and secure” Asia Pacific amid China’s concerns that AUKUS could destabilise the region.
Speaking at the inaugural Asean-Australia summit, Lee noted at the virtual meeting on Wednesday (27 October) that the 10-member grouping and Australia have similar strategic outlooks, according to a report by CNA.
“Singapore welcomes new regional architecture formulations that support Asean centrality, deepen economic integration, and promote a stable and secure Asia-Pacific region and a rules-based order, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. We welcome Australia’s assurance that its AUKUS partnership with the US and UK will be consistent with these criteria,” Lee said.
Under the pact, Australia will be provided with submarines powered by nuclear reactors. The submarines will not be equipped with nuclear arms. AUKUS has led to a row with France and its Western partners, after Australia reneged on a deal to buy conventional submarines from Paris and chose the trilateral pact.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has said the pact would “seriously damage regional peace and stability, exacerbate an arms race, and harm nuclear non-proliferation efforts”.
Political analysts say China’s concerns stem from the possibility of the Australian submarines operating in regional waters and islands that it has claimed as its own. Among them, China faces rival claims by Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Brunei over the Spratly Islands.
AUKUS is seen as an attempt by the US to curb China’s military ambition in the region.
Malaysia and Indonesia have also expressed concerns over Australia's nuclear-powered submarines.
"Even though that country (Australia) doesn't have the capacity for nuclear weapons, we are worried and concerned." said Malaysia's foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah earlier this month.
Indonesia said last month that AUKUS could trigger a regional arms race.
Meanwhile, New Zealand is exploring AUKUS membership in a bid to boost its cybersecurity capabilities, according to Australian media reports.
New Zealand’s high commissioner to Australia Annette King said earlier this week, “It’s been made clear to us that other countries are going to be welcome to be involved in other parts of the architecture. And cyber is one area that we’d certainly be interested in,” according to a report by the Sydney Morning Herald.
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