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Mar 14, 2023
Australia’s Diplomatic Push on Subs Runs Into Neighbors’ Worries
(Bloomberg) -- Australia has embarked on a diplomatic campaign to ease regional concerns over its acquisition of a fleet of nuclear submarines under the Aukus agreement, as Malaysia warned against potentially unleashing an “arms race” in the Asia-Pacific.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will visit Fiji on Wednesday for his first meeting with newly-elected leader Sitiveni Rabuka. Australian Chief of Navy Mark Hammond is also expected to travel to Singapore and Indonesia to brief the nations’ leaders on the Aukus plan that was unveiled in the US on Monday.
The Aukus security deal — Australia, the UK and US — is part of a broader drive by Washington and its allies to boost their military assets in the Asia-Pacific region. The Biden administration is aiming to send a signal to China that the US will respond to Beijing’s push to reclaim land and build military installations on disputed islands and atolls across the South China Sea.
Albanese attended the announcement in San Diego on Monday alongside President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, ending 18 months of speculation about Australia’s nuclear submarine fleet following the signing of Aukus in September 2021.
In the lead-up to the ceremony, Albanese and his leadership team, including Foreign Minister Penny Wong, made more than 60 calls to regional leaders to brief them on the plan, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Initial reactions were mixed to Australia’s plan to purchase up to five US Virginia-class nuclear submarines starting from 2032, followed by a new fleet based on a UK-design to be ready from the early 2040s.
In a statement late Tuesday, Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said while it appreciated the transparency from the Aukus partners, it maintained its previously critical position on the agreement.
The ministry said it was important for all countries to refrain “from any provocation that could potentially trigger an arms race or affect peace and security in the region.”
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Twitter it had been “closely following” the announcement on Australia’s plans for a fleet of nuclear submarines.
“Maintaining peace and stability in the region is the responsibility of all countries. It is critical for all countries to be a part of this effort,” the ministry said, reiterating that it expected Australia to comply with its non-proliferation treaty obligations.
US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Kritenbrink traveled to Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta last week to reassure Malaysia and Indonesia over the Aukus accord.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the submarine deal would “exacerbate” a regional arms race.
Speaking at his regular press conference in Beijing on Tuesday, Wang said the Aukus partners had “totally disregarded the concerns of the international community and gone further down the wrong and dangerous path.”
Foreign Minister Wong said Wednesday that Australia was providing a briefing on the Aukus announcement to the diplomatic corps and that she understands a Chinese representative will attend.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.
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