Australia has shored up its defence partnership with south-east Asian nations as it moves to settle tensions about Australia’s pivot to acquiring nuclear-powered submarines.
Defence ministers met virtually for an informal ASEAN-Australia meeting hosted by Brunei this week. Australian defence minister Peter Dutton said afterwards the countries had reaffirmed their commitment to shared defence co-operation.
The bloc of 10 ASEAN nations are a key Australian ally in addressing regional security and as a whole represent Australia’s second-biggest trading partner.
Dutton briefed his counterparts on Australia’s agreement with the UK and US to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, stressing the AUKUS deal was not a defence alliance or security pact and did not change Australia’s strategy.
ASEAN members Indonesia and Malaysia raised concerns last month about the nuclear submarines plan potentially increasing tensions in the region.
Dutton at the meeting presented AUKUS at the meeting as a framework for sharing technology and capability that would complement Australia’s network of international partnerships.
“Australia is also a strong supporter of the ASEAN outlook on the Indo-Pacific, which aligns with our vision for an open, inclusive and resilient region based on sovereignty and international law,” Dutton said.
“We remain committed to the principles in the outlook, including ASEAN centrality, openness, transparency, inclusivity, good governance, a rules-based framework and respect for sovereignty and international law.”
Dutton also announced Australia would become the first “plus partner” to join ASEAN’s direct communications infrastructure, which is designed to play an important role in crisis management.
He also announced a doubling of the ASEAN-Australia defence postgraduate scholarship program.