Duterte sounds off anew on AUKUS in 1st ASEAN-Australia dialogue

The Australia, United Kingdom, and United States (AUKUS) trilateral security partnership must be favorable to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which the Philippines is a founding member.

(Photos from Unsplash/ Malacañang)

This was the gist of President Duterte's message on Wednesday, Oct. 27 during the first ASEAN-Australia Summit, which was held as part of the 38th and 39th ASEAN Summits and Related Summits.

"The Philippines congratulates Australia on the convening of this inaugural annual ASEAN-Australia Summit," Duterte said.

"As one of ASEAN's strategic partners, we count on Australia’s cooperation to preserve peace, security, and stability in our region. The Philippines also supports Australia as a Comprehensive Strategic Partner," he said.

"I note the establishment of the AUKUS trilateral security partnership and hope that this would indeed contribute to this strategic objective which we all share," Duterte said, referring to the controversial three-state security pact.

"While we are reassured of Australia's commitment to fulfill all its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, we would like to underscore the importance of AUKUS supporting and complementing ASEAN Centrality in the evolving regional security architecture," he said.

The Philippine leader's statements were consistent with his remarks the previous day at the 9th ASEAN-United States (US) Summit wherein he had optimistic yet cautious tone.

The AUKUS security pact involves Australia’s purchase of nuclear-powered submarines for the Australian Navy.

These subs will then be used by the three nations in patrolling the South China Sea–a location that in recent years has been feared to cause a flashpoint mainly due to regional power China’s aggressive maritime posturing.

"To maintain security, stability, and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea, the rule of law must prevail," Duterte said.

"Adherence to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Arbitral Award is key to a rules-based order in the South China Sea. We thank Australia for joining us in marking the 5th anniversary of the Arbitral Award, and for reiterating its call for all parties to abide by the Tribunal's decision," he added.

The Arbitral Award refers to the Philippines’ victory in the case it lodged before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, wherein it challenged China’s expansive nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea.

The Tribunal's decision, which has never been recognized by Beijing, invalidated the nine-dash line.

The high-level meetings at the twin summits are being held virtually.