British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said there had been “a lot of over-media coverage” of the pact known as AUKUS. He said the UK and US have shared such technology for decades, and Australia’s decision to join was simply to develop its own submarine capability.
The pact will provide Australia with nuclear reactors to power its submarines, but the submarines will not be equipped with nuclear weapons. It drew mixed reactions in the region, with Malaysia and Indonesia expressing fears of escalating tensions in hot spots such as the South China Sea. China, which claims most of the disputed sea, criticized the pact and warned it would threaten regional stability.
Other nations such as the Philippines and Singapore have suggested that AUKUS could contribute to regional peace by helping to counteract China’s growing influence in the region.
âThis in no way reflects the reduction in our friendships with our colleagues and allies. This is by no means a challenge in your part of the world, âHeappey said in an online press conference after meeting his counterparts from the Five Powers Defense Arrangements.
The FPDA, which involves Commonwealth members Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, is a non-binding treaty formed half a century ago. Countries should consult each other in the event of armed threats or attacks against the former British colonies of Malaysia and Singapore.
Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton agreed that AUKUS is “not a defense alliance or a security pact” and does not represent a change in his country’s defense strategy. He said the pact aims to improve Australia’s defense capability and will complement its partnerships in the region, including FPDA.
Dutton said Australia has no intention of interfering in the operations of other countries and will continue to maintain close ties to ensure the region remains safe and prosperous.
Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein did not comment on the AUKUS pact. Malaysian officials said earlier that they fear AUKUS could push other powers to act more aggressively in the region, especially in the South China Sea. Malaysia has said it does not want to be drawn into the US-China rivalry.
While Malaysia and Singapore face no particular threats, Hishammuddin said the FPDA remains relevant and will continue to focus on issues such as combating terrorism, transnational crime and regional maritime tensions. The five nations earlier this week concluded an annual defense exercise involving ships, planes and 2,600 people to mark their 50th anniversary.