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Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong greets her Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah in Putrajaya on Tuesday. Photo: EPA-EFE/Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Australia says committed to Southeast Asia’s stability, allays fears over Aukus nuclear submarines

  • Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who wrapped up the last leg of her regional tour in Malaysia, said the new Labor government is ‘listening’ to the concerns of its neighbours
  • She also sought to assuage Asean’s fears over the Aukus security pact, saying Canberra won’t have any nuclear capability on its submarines
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong on Tuesday reiterated the Albanese administration’s commitment to uphold stability and prosperity in Southeast Asia as she paid her first official visit to Malaysia.
Wong, who wrapped up the last leg of a tour of the region, said Australia and Southeast Asia’s future are intertwined.

“We share the same future because we share the same region,” she said at a joint news conference with her Malaysian counterpart, Saifuddin Abdullah.

Echoing her commitment in Vietnam on Monday that “size and power” are not ways to settle disputes, Wong also said Australia stands by its commitment to keep Southeast Asia a region that is stable and prosperous where “sovereignty is respected”.

“And importantly, a region where rules enable some predictability to state’s behaviour and to the way in which disputes are settled,” she said.

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Her trip comes on the heels of a visit to Jakarta by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese earlier this month.

Wong, an ardent promoter of her Southeast Asian heritage, stressed that the importance of the region “goes beyond geography” and that the new Labor government, which won power in a May national election, is “listening” to the concerns of its neighbours.

Relations between Australia and its regional neighbours – particularly members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ( Asean) – hit a major stumbling block under the previous liberal administration after it signed the controversial Aukus security pact last year with the United States and Britain to secure nuclear-powered submarines.


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Wong acknowledged that the prospect of having nuclear-powered submarines operating in the region under the defence arrangement has caused concern among Australia’s partners including Malaysia.

The minister, however, maintained that Aukus’ scope is limited only to propulsion of the submarines and has nothing to do with nuclear armaments.

“We remain very clear that we do not seek to arm any nuclear capabilities for our submarines,” she said.

Malaysia, which straddles two sides of the contested waters of the South China Sea, has been vocal over its concern about the security alliance, saying nuclear submarines could threaten peace and risk triggering a nuclear arms race in the region.

Why is Southeast Asia so concerned about Aukus?

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob had said that it would put his government in a dilemma if other global powers also helped other countries to procure similar technology.

“For example, if China wants to help North Korea purchase nuclear-powered submarines, we can’t say no because Aukus has set a precedent,” he told Nikkei in May.

Wong, who was born in the state of Sabah on Malaysian Borneo, is expected to fly to her family hometown of Kota Kinabalu to spend time with relatives before returning to Australia.