Malaysia hopes for Asean consensus on Australian nuclear submarine pact

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia is hoping for a clear consensus among South-east Asian nations on a new Indo-Pacific security partnership between Australia, the United States and Britain, its defence minister said yesterday.

The alliance known as Aukus, announced last month, will see Australia acquiring technology to deploy nuclear-powered submarines as part of an agreement intended to respond to growing Chinese power, especially in the strategically important South China Sea.

The plan has divided countries in South-east Asia, with Indonesia and Malaysia warning that it could lead to an arms race among rival superpowers in the region, while the Philippines, a US defence ally, has backed the pact.

Malaysia's Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told Parliament yesterday that a meeting with his counterparts from the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) scheduled next month will present an opportunity for the bloc to agree on a shared response to Aukus.

"Our endgame as always is to ensure the region's stability, regardless of the balance of powers (between) the US or China," he said. "An understanding at Asean will help us in facing these two major powers."

Aukus is largely seen as a response by Western allies to avert Chinese hegemony in South-east Asia, particularly in the South China Sea, a conduit for a third of ship-borne trade, over which Beijing claims historical sovereignty.

Malaysia's Foreign Ministry last week summoned China's ambassador to Kuala Lumpur to protest against the presence of Beijing's vessels in its waters.

China has said the Aukus plan risks severely damaging regional peace and stability.

The United States, however, has said the alliance poses no threat to Indo-Pacific security and is not aimed at any one country.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2021, with the headline 'Malaysia hopes for Asean consensus on Australian nuclear submarine pact'. Subscribe