Ahead of Cabinet meeting, Duterte ‘expressed concern’ over regional nuclear arms race with AUKUS pact — Palace

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 28) — President Rodrigo Duterte “expressed concern” over the security pact signed by the United States and the United Kingdom with Australia over its acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines, the Palace said Tuesday.

“He said that this will be discussed in the full Cabinet meeting, although he expressed concern about a regional nuclear arms race,” said his spokesman Harry Roque, when asked about the chief executive’s stand on AUKUS.

CNN earlier reported that officials of the three countries have earlier insisted that the trilateral agreement is not specifically about China. The nations will likewise meet in the months ahead to coordinate on issues like advanced technologies and defense to help better address modern-day security challenges. 

During the latter part of Duterte’s address which aired Tuesday morning, Roque said the Philippines adopts and pursues a nuclear weapon-free policy in its territory, as stated in the Constitution.

He stressed that the country is also part of the Bangkok Treaty, where it stands firmly, along with the rest of the Association of Southeast Nations, against a nuclear arms race in the region.

“Karamihan po ng mga bansa sa Southeast Asia ay concerned doon sa dalawang bagay: na mas matitindi po ‘yung magiging hidwaan, at pangalawa po ay importante po na hindi magkaroon ng, kumbaga, arms race sa rehiyon,” said Roque.

[Translation: Most of the countries in Southeast Asia are concerned over those two things: that tensions will further escalate, and that it’s important there wouldn’t be a (nuclear) arms race in the region.]

Earlier this month, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. welcomed Canberra’s move to come up with the trilateral partnership with Washington and London.

“Proximity breeds brevity in response time; thereby enhancing an ASEAN near friend and ally’s military capacity to respond in timely and commensurate fashion to a threat to the region or a challenge to the status quo. This requires enhancing Australia’s ability, added to that of its main military ally, to achieve that calibration,” said Locsin.

Locsin further explained that this enhancement of Australia’s military capacity through the deal “would be beneficial in the long term even to the other side,” noting the added time “it affords all protagonists for reflection before reacting.”

“For the Philippines, what is essential is Australia’s commitment to the primacy of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and ASEAN-led mechanisms. None of these mechanisms are compromised, weakened or in conflict with the enhancement of Australia’s ability to respond; quite the contrary,” said the country’s top diplomat.

Locsin also affirmed the country’s aspiration for peace, security, stability and prosperity in the South China Sea.

“We are acutely aware of great power dynamics; with a sharp eye we will engage in practical and mutually beneficial cooperation aligned with the priority areas of the Outlook,” he said.