KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has expressed concern that the security partnership involving Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, known as AUKUS, could potentially spark a nuclear arms race in the Indo-Pacific region, Bernama reported on Saturday (Sep 18).
Australia will build eight nuclear-powered submarines under the partnership, which has riled China.
"It will provoke other powers to also act more aggressively in the region, especially in the South China Sea," Malaysia's Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said in a statement.
It urged all parties to avoid any provocation and arms competition in the region.
"As a country within ASEAN, Malaysia holds the principle of maintaining ASEAN as a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOFPAN)," the statement said.
Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob had received a telephone call from his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison on Friday, informing him of the AUKUS deal and explaining its details.
The PMO said that during the call, Ismail Sabri stressed the importance of respecting Malaysia's stand on nuclear-powered submarines operating in its waters, noting the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS) and the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (SEANWFZ).
The statement did not mention China, but Beijing's foreign policy in the region has been increasingly assertive, particularly its maritime claims in the resource-rich South China Sea, some of which conflict with Malaysia's own claims.
The PMO said that Ismail Sabri and Morrison reached an agreement on renewing their joint commitment to maintain international peace and security, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Malaysia and Australia agreed to strengthen cooperation and consultation in various aspects, including in the area of defence under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership,” it said.