Malaysia and Indonesia on Monday expressed concern about Australia’s plans to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, warning that the move could ignite nuclear competition between countries in the region and could prompt major powers to engage in greater interventions in Southeast Asia.
Last September, the United States, Britain and Australia announced the formation of a defense-security alliance to “protect their interests” in the Indo-Pacific, which would help provide Australia with nuclear submarines, at the expense of a previous agreement between Canberra and Paris.
Worried about a nuclear arms race
Commenting on this, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said, after a meeting with her Malaysian counterpart, Saifuddin Abdullah, in the capital Jakarta: “This situation certainly will not benefit anyone.”
She added, “We agreed on the need to continue efforts to maintain a peaceful and stable region; we do not want the current dynamics to cause tension in the arms race and also in a show of force.”
The minister and the minister said at a joint press conference that they agreed to enhance the unity and centrality of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and urged all members of the bloc to contribute to the region’s stability, security, peace and prosperity and respect for international law.
For his part, Malaysian Minister Abdullah explained that “the possession of a country close to our neighbor (Indonesia) new nuclear-powered submarines may encourage major countries to come frequently to the lands of Southeast Asia.”
Abdullah is visiting Jakarta to prepare for the visit of Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaqoub to Indonesia later this year, in his first foreign trip since taking office last August.
Amid the increasing competition between the great powers with China in the Indo-Pacific region, Washington, London and Canberra announced on September 16 the launch of a new defense and security partnership called the “Ocos Alliance”, which it said was to “protect their interests” in that region.
Subsequently, Canberra canceled a deal signed in 2016 with Paris worth 90 billion Australian dollars (66 billion US dollars) to buy 12 French diesel-electric submarines, and decided to buy another American nuclear-fueled submarines.
According to analysts, the Australian-US submarine deal is inconsistent with Australia’s obligations under its membership in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as well as the nature of the 1951 Tripartite Strategic Cooperation Agreement between Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
Also, providing Australia with the technology to produce offensive nuclear submarines creates a new strategic reality in Southeast Asia, which involves changing the rules of the strategic balance game, putting Australia in a confrontation with China by proxy, and opening the door to nuclear proliferation in the region full of tension factors.
The Indonesian-Australian relations in particular have witnessed a state of tension between the two neighbors, despite their joint cooperation to protect the borders and combat human smuggling campaigns.
The Indonesian military had previously suspended cooperation with the Australian Defense Forces over a course taught at a training camp, believed to be offensive to Indonesia, before the water was restored nearly a year later.
Indonesia also suspended military and intelligence cooperation with Australia, after it emerged that Australian intelligence agents were monitoring the phone of then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and members of his close associates, including his wife.