President Rodrigo Duterte has raised concern over the new trilateral security pact among Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (AUKUS), Malacañang said on Tuesday.
In a virtual press conference, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte would meet with his Cabinet to discuss the AUKUS alliance and raise the issue, as he worried the trilateral pact could trigger a “nuclear arms race.”
“He (Duterte) expressed concern about a regional nuclear arms race. But he will discuss this further with the Cabinet and will come up with a clear position after the meeting of the Cabinet,” Roque said.
AUKUS alliance is seen to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific, specifically in the South China Sea where it lays claim on nearly 80 percent of the strategic water under its so-called nine-dash line that has been invalidated by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2016 ruling.
The pact also aims to provide Australia the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines, a partnership denounced by China because of its supposed risks to intensify the arms race and undermine international non-proliferation efforts.
On Sept. 17, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had a telephone conversation with Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton to discuss the AUKUS alliance and Canberra’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines.
Dutton told Lorenzana the intention to acquire submarines is not to be armed with nuclear weapons but to develop Australia’s capability to protect its territories as well as that of its friends in the region.
Lorenzana, on the other hand, acknowledged Australia’s right to improve its submarine defense capability.
Last week, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. also welcomed the AUKUS partnership, citing its benefit to maintaining peace and security in Southeast Asia.
Roque on Monday expressed hope that the trilateral pact would not violate the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty, an agreement inked by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 1995 to preserve the region as a nuclear weapon-free zone and free from all other weapons of mass destruction.