Locsin defends Australia's 'prerogative' to acquire nuclear submarines via US, UK deal

The Philippines has welcomed Australia’s decision to establish a trilateral partnership with the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK), citing its importance to regional peace and security and in addressing the geographic imbalance in the Indo- Pacific region.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. (DFA)

In a statement Tuesday, Sept. 21, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), “singly and collectively, do not possess the military wherewithal to maintain peace and security in Southeast Asia”.

“There is an imbalance in the forces available to the ASEAN member states, with the main balancer more than half a world away. The enhancement of a near abroad ally’s ability to project power should restore and keep the balance rather than destabilize it,” the foreign affairs secretary said.

Last week, US President Joe Biden, along with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, unveiled the trilateral security partnership - also known as AUKUS - that would provide the Royal Australian Navy with at least eight nuclear-powered submarines to help it maintain the peace in the Indo-Pacific region amid China’s destabilizing activities in the South China Sea.

“Australia’s actions reflect its concerns about this geographic imbalance and its desire to help maintain regional peace and security. That is its prerogative,” Locsin said even as some ASEAN countries fear that AUKUS could lead to a major arms race in the Indo-Pacific region.

Absent the actual presence of nuclear weapons in the region, the DFA secretary said the Philippines cannot infer any violation of the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty and is open to discussing the matter with other governments.

“We appreciate Australia’s continued and absolute commitment to meeting its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to the highest standards of nuclear stewardship,” he added.

What is essential for the Philippines, according to the country’s top diplomat, is Australia’s commitment to the primacy of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and ASEAN-led mechanisms.

“None of these mechanisms are compromised, weakened or in conflict with the enhancement of Australia’s ability to respond; quite the contrary,” he said.

He said the Philippines is aspiring for the South China Sea to remain a sea of peace, security, stability, and prosperity and will engage in practical and mutually beneficial cooperation aligned with the priority areas of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific region.

Despite Philippine support, the creation of AUKUS caused a major stir in Europe, with France recalling its ambassadors to the US and Australia for the first time, calling the deal a “stab in the back”.

France was reacting to Australia’s decision to scrap a huge diesel-powered subs deal in favor of nuclear submarines from the US.