North Korea has warned that a new security pact between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia could trigger a “nuclear arms race” – echoing concerns that have spread throughout the region.
The so-called AUKUS deal – announced last week and viewed by many as a thinly veiled attempt to counter China’s influence in the South China Sea and Asia-Pacific more broadly – will see the U.S. and U.K. give Australia the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines. It will be the first time the U.S. has shared its submarine technology in 60 years, and will allow Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines that are faster, stealthier and able to carry missiles that could strike farther.
While Australia says it has no intention of putting nuclear weapons on the new subs, a foreign ministry official for North Korea condemned the AUKUS security agreements as “extremely undesirable and dangerous acts which will upset the strategic balance in the Asia-Pacific region and trigger off a chain of nuclear arms race.”
The comments out of Pyongyang follow those made by other countries in the region over the past week, including Indonesia, who on Friday emphasised that they were “deeply concerned over the continuing arms race and power projection in the region.”
“Indonesia stresses the importance of Australia’s commitment to continue meeting all of its nuclear non-proliferation obligations,” Indonesia’s foreign affairs spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said in a statement. “Indonesia calls on Australia to maintain its commitment towards regional peace, stability and security … [and] encourages Australia and other parties concerned to advance dialogue in settling any differences peacefully.”
Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob on Saturday similarly suggested that the AUKUS pact would be a “catalyst for a nuclear arms race in the Indo-Pacific region” and “provoke other powers to also act more aggressively in the region, especially in the South China Sea.”
The announcement of the AUKUS pact also drew the ire of China, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian labelling it “extremely irresponsible” and saying that those involved “should abandon the outdated Cold War zero-sum mentality and narrow-minded geopolitical stability” lest they “end up shooting themselves in the foot.”
The newly announced pact has also ruffled feathers outside of Asia. France, with whom Australia had previously signed a $35.5 billion dollar submarine deal, said the abandonment of that agreement was a “stab in the back.”
“We created a relationship of trust with Australia and that trust has been broken,” France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told radio station franceinfo. “This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr Trump used to do. I am angry and bitter. This isn’t done between allies.”
A furious French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday recalled the country’s ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia. It was the first time France has recalled a U.S. ambassador since the countries formed their alliance during the American War of Independence.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has unapologetically stood by his decision, insisting that he acted in the interests of both Australia and the region at large.
“Our world is becoming more complex, especially here in our region, the Indo-Pacific,” Morrison said. “To meet these challenges, to help deliver the security and stability our region needs, we must now take our partnership to a new level.”
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