Asia & Pacific

South Korea Cozies Up to AUKUS Amid Regional Concerns of Bloc’s Transformation Into ‘Asian NATO’

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, right, meets with US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister of Australia Anthony Albanese, left, at Point Loma naval base in San Diego, US

Russia, China and North Korea slammed the creation of the trilateral Australian-UK-US security agreement in the fall of 2021, with Pyongyang characterizing the nuclear sub tech transfer agreement as an “extremely undesirable and dangerous” move that “will upset the strategic balance in the Asia-Pacific region” and destroy nuclear non-proliferation.South Korea has expressed interest in working with AUKUS on defense technology transfers, laying the potential groundwork for the US-crafted security pact’s expansion following similar flirting with New Zealand, Japan and Canada.In a meeting with Australian officials on Wednesday, South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik confirmed that “discussions” were taking place about how Seoul could contribute to AUKUS’s so-called Pillar II – which promises partner nations advanced military technologies, from computing and cyber capabilities to hypersonic and radar know-how.“We welcome that AUKUS members are considering [South] Korea as an AUKUS Pillar II partner,” Shin said, speaking to reporters alongside Australian counterpart Richard Marles in Melbourne. “Korea’s defense science and technology capabilities will contribute to the peace and stability of the development of AUKUS Pillar II and regional peace,” the South Korean defense minister said.Marles welcomed Seoul’s Pillar II aspirations, telling reporters that the republic “is a country with deeply impressive technology where we do have shared values.”“As AUKUS Pillar II develops there will be opportunities in the future, and we’re seeing that play out in relation to Japan as well,” the Australian defense minister said.WorldAUKUS to Push Forward With Expansion Despite Quarrels Between Allies7 April, 11:05 GMTCanberra played down Japan’s potential membership in AUKUS as recently as last month, saying there were no plans to include Tokyo in the trilateral security partnership.“What is proposed is to look at Pillar II of AUKUS and look at a project-by-project” basis for cooperation, “whether there would be engagement, and Japan is a natural candidate for that to occur,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told reporters April 8.

Pillar II’s proposals are distinct from the pact’s Pillar I, which focuses on the sharing of American and British nuclear submarine propulsion technology with Australia as part of a plan by Canberra to build eight or more nuclear-powered submarines. That deal, announced in September 2021, caught France, which had reached a $65 billion diesel-powered sub agreement with Australia, off guard, sparking a diplomatic row and cooling relations. A $584 million settlement was subsequently reached, with the two countries penning a base-sharing agreement in December 2023.

Russia, China and North Korea have each slammed the AUKUS agreement, as well as other US-led efforts to militarize the Asia-Pacific region, including via the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (which includes the US, Australia, Japan and India as members). Moscow has warned that AUKUS will have a destabilizing effect on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and undermine regional and international security in general.China, the AUKUS pact’s perceived main target, slammed the agreement as a step which would “intensify the arms race,” and undermine international non-proliferation.AUKUS’s potential expansion, whether formally or through Pillar II technology sharing, has sparked speculation that the pact could become the bedrock of an “Asian NATO” security alliance designed to “checkmate” China in the Indo-Pacific.WorldBiden Admin ‘Pushing Hard’ to Get AUKUS Pillar 2 Deals With Japan, Canada – Report20 March, 11:43 GMTIt wouldn’t be the first time the US has resorted to similar measures, both against Beijing and against Moscow.Washington’s anti-China efforts include the age-old ‘Island Chain Strategy’ – established after the Second World War and envisioning a network of pacts with Pacific nations to hem the Chinese Navy into its home ports. During the Cold War, the US and its allies set up similar alliances against the USSR, including the Middle Eastern Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). The former collapsed in 1979 after the Iranian Revolution, while the latter dissolved in 1977 after America’s decisive defeat in the Vietnam War.

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