Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob reminded his Australian counterpart that Malaysia upholds the principle of preserving the ASEAN region as a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (Zopfan).
In a phone call to Ismail Sabri on September 17, Australian premier Scott Morrison informed him of the formation of a three-way cooperative relationship between Australia, the UK and the US dubbed “Aukus”, in efforts to assist Australia in obtaining nuclear-powered submarines.
“Aukus could potentially be a catalyst towards a nuclear arms race in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as provoke other powers to act more aggressively, especially within the South China Sea region,” he said in a statement.
Ismail Sabri further stressed the need for respecting and abiding by Malaysia’s stance on nuclear-powered submarines being operated under Malaysian waters.
This approach was in line with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (SEANWFZ).
Both premiers then reached an understanding towards renewing their commitment in maintaining international peace and security, specifically in the Indo-Pacific region.
“I urge all parties to avoid provocative actions as well as arms races within the region and stress the importance of understanding and abiding by the current measures in place,” said Ismail Sabri.
And in a statement published on its website on September 17, Indonesia’s foreign ministry said Jakarta had cautiously taken note of Canberra’s decision to acquire the submarines and stressed the importance of Australia’s commitment to continue meeting its nuclear non-proliferation obligations.
“Indonesia is deeply concerned over the continuing arms race and power projection in the region,” the ministry said, beseeching Australia to uphold its commitment to regional peace, stability and security in accordance with the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, a prerequisite for establishing ties with ASEAN.
“Indonesia encourages Australia and other parties concerned to advance dialogue in settling any differences peacefully,” it said. “In this regard, Indonesia underscores the respect for international law, including the 1982 [Unclos], in maintaining peace and security in the region.”
Meanwhile, Philippine defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana on September 17 received a briefing on the Aukus alliance from his Australian counterpart Peter Dutton.
The two ministers spoke for the first time since Dutton became Australian defence minister early this year, the Department of National Defence (DND) said in a statement.
In a telephone call, Dutton told Lorenzana that Australia is concerned about peace and stability in the region and the intent to acquire submarines is to develop Australia’s capability to protect its territories as well as those of its friends in the region.
Dutton made clear that the submarines will be nuclear-powered but will not be armed with nuclear weapons. He also underscored that Australia wants to be seen as a neighbour that promotes regional peace, the DND said.
For his part, Lorenzana recognised Australia’s right to improve its defence capabilities. He said the Philippines, which is strategically situated in Southeast Asia, is also building its own capability to protect its territories.
He said the Philippines would like to maintain good bilateral defence relations with all countries in the region.
THE STAR (MALAYSIA), THE JAKARTA POST, PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER