Australia and UK deepen security ties amid China worries

Two countries say there has been ‘significant progress’ in AUKUS plan for Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

A helicopter takes off from the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth with the ship's bridge in the background and a blue sky with scattered clouds
The United Kingdom last year sent the HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Asia Pacific as part of its deepening commitment to Asia Pacific security [File: Jay Allen/EPA]

The United Kingdom has pledged 25 million pounds ($34 million) as part of a commitment to promote “peace and stability” in the Indo-Pacific, as it deepens a security pact with Australia amid continuing concerns about China’s power and influence in the region.

The funds will be used to “strengthen regional resilience in areas including cyberspace, state threats and maritime security,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison said in a joint statement after a video meeting on Thursday.

The statement also expressed “grave concerns” about alleged human rights violations in the far western Chinese region of Xinjiang and the situation in Myanmar, and stressed the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the South China Sea.

The UK and Australia are deepening security ties as China becomes increasingly assertive about its territorial and maritime claims in the region.

In the South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by the southeast Asian nations that surround it, Beijing has built artificial islands and developed rocky outcrops into military bases, deploying its Coast Guard and a maritime militia to back its claim to almost the entire sea.

The joint statement said Johnson and Morrison recognised the importance of countries being able to exercise their maritime rights and freedoms in the South China Sea consistent with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“Leaders reiterated their strong opposition to any unilateral actions that could escalate tensions and undermine regional stability and the international rules-based order, including militarisation, coercion, and intimidation,” it said.

In Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own, the Chinese air force has staged regular sorties into the island’s air defence zone and stepped up pressure on countries, companies, and organisations that engage with the self-ruled democracy.

Britain and the UK said there had also been “significant progress” in providing Australia with the nuclear-powered conventionally-armed submarines that were a key element of the AUKUS pact agreed with the United States last September. Along with the US, Japan and India, Australia is also a key member of the Quad, whose members last week agreed to further deepen security cooperation.

Discussions also focussed on Myanmar, where the generals who seized power in a coup in February 2021, have used force against people opposed to its rule and has been accused of actions that could amount to war crimes for their attacks on civilians.

The UK and Australia called for the “immediate cessation of violence against civilian populations, the release of all those arbitrarily detained, including Australian Professor Sean Turnell, and unhindered humanitarian access”. Turnell, an economic adviser to elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was taken into detention shortly after the coup.

The two countries also urged the Myanmar military to implement the Five-Point Consensus to end the violence that was agreed with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) last April. ASEAN foreign ministers are currently meeting in Cambodia, but the military declined to participate after Myanmar was told it could only send a “non-political representative” because of its failure to implement the plan.

With Russian troops still massed near the Ukraine border, Johnson and Morrison also stressed the need for de-escalation of the situation.

“They underscored that any further Russian incursion in Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake and have a stark humanitarian cost,” the joint statement said.

Source: Al Jazeera