Monday, 18 October, 2021

Why this south-east Asian nation is backing Australia’s new defence pact


The Hun Sen government “expected that AUKUS will not fuel unhealthy rivalries and further escalate tension,” according to an official Cambodian account of the meeting.

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That has been the misgiving of Malaysia and Indonesia, which fear a continuing build-up of arms and competition.

Their apprehension prompted Australia to send David Johnston, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, to south-east Asia to further explain AUKUS.

His talks in Malaysia haven’t changed the view in government there, however, with Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein telling parliament this week he had stressed to Johnston that “Malaysia does not want to be dragged into the geopolitics of the considerations of huge powers”.

Hishammuddin, who said Johnston had told him AUKUS was not a military alliance but a collaboration for nuclear-powered submarine technology, “also emphasised that Malaysia’s stand will not budge”.

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“That is, any problems, differences and disputes must be addressed, consistently and clearly through dialogue and consultation,” he said.

Locsin on Thursday also weighed on the ongoing crisis in Myanmar as ASEAN foreign ministers on Friday meet to discuss not inviting its junta leader to the bloc’s next summit.

Eight months after staging a coup, the military won’t allow ASEAN’s special envoy to meet with ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is on trial on various charges and has been held under house arrest and elsewhere since February.

Locsin said he was “pretty definitive” about excluding the military chief from the ASEAN leaders meeting.

“If we relent in any way, our credibility as a real regional organisation disappears,” he told the Lowy event.

“We’re a bunch of guys who always agree with each other on the worthless things, things that don’t count to the world. Well, I don’t know what that is, but it doesn’t seem like a vibrant alliance or regional grouping.”

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