Kuala Lumpur, Australia and the United Kingdom (UK) today defended their nuclear submarine deal with the United States (US) amid concerns it could escalate tensions in the region and spark an arms race.

UK Minister for Armed Forces James Heappey said there “has been a lot of overhyping” of the pact known as AUKUS. He said the UK and the US have been sharing such technologies for decades and that Australia’s decision to join was merely to develop its own submarine capability.

The pact will provide Australia with nuclear reactors to power its submarines, but the subs will not be nuclear-armed. It drew mixed reactions in the region, with Malaysia and Indonesia expressing concern it could escalate tensions in hotspots, such as the South China Sea. China, which claims most of the disputed sea, slammed the pact and warned it would threaten regional stability.

Other nations, such as the Philippines and Singapore suggested AUKUS could contribute to regional peace by helping to counterbalance China’s growing influence in the region.

“It doesn’t in any way reflect reduction in our friendships with colleagues and allies. It doesn’t in anyway represent a challenge in your part of the world,” Heappey said in an online news conference after meeting with his counterparts in the Five Powers Defense Arrangements (FPDA).

The FPDA, which involves Commonwealth members Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the UK, is a non-binding treaty formed half a century ago. The countries are to consult each other in the event of armed threats or attacks on former British colonies Malaysia and Singapore, the Associated Press (AP) news reported.

Source: Oman News Agency