Manila backs controversial AUKUS security pact as move to fix ‘imbalance’ of power in Southeast Asia

Breaking with some of its neighbors, the Philippines welcomed the new security deal between Australia, the US and UK as beneficial to the Indo-Pacific region. The arrangement sparked a row with France and was criticized by China.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin said the country welcomed the recently announced security pact between Australia, the US and the UK, which allows Canberra to acquire nuclear-powered submarines with American and British help.

“ASEAN member states, singly and collectively, do not possess the military wherewithal to maintain peace and security in Southeast Asia,” Locsin said, referring to the regional economic bloc comprising 10 nations, including Manila.

“The enhancement of a near-abroad ally’s ability to project power should restore and keep the balance rather than destabilize it,” Locsin said, arguing that AUKUS will address the “imbalance in the forces available to the ASEAN member states.”

In that regard, we believe that the fresh enhancement of Australia’s military capacity through this trilateral security partnership would be beneficial in the long term.

Locsin’s statement came in stark contrast to the more cautious position voiced by Indonesia and Malaysia, which warned that the pact may bolster a nuclear arms race in the already contentious Indo-Pacific region.

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AUKUS also caused a major diplomatic conflict between the three English-speaking allies and France. Paris was furious that Canberra has ditched a major joint submarine program and recalled its ambassadors from the US and Australia as a result. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described AUKUS as “a stab in the back.”

Australia, meanwhile, claimed that France was well aware that the now-abandoned submarine deal had no longer met Australia’s needs, given the changing environment in the Indo-Pacific.

AUKUS is widely seen as a move to counter China’s growing influence in the region. Beijing criticized the pact as an irresponsible step that will only lead to the rising of tensions.

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