US sets up Australia for a China war
Morrison’s risky throw of electoral dice

Aukus strikes at heart of Pacific regionalism

James Bhagwan  general secretary  Pacific Council of Churches (Radio New Zealand  Jamie Tahana)
Rev James Bhagwan,  general secretary of the Pacific Council of Churches - "Australia is not acting in the best interests of  vuvale,  family" (Radio New Zealand Jamie Tahana)

| Radio New Zealand Pacific | Edited extracts

AUCKLAND - Australia's new security pact with the United States and the United Kingdom has touched a nerve at the core of Pacific regionalism.

The AUKUS alliance, announced by the leaders of the three countries late last week, finds them seeking strategic advantage in the Indo-Pacific region.

Announcing the pact in a video link with Australia's prime minister Scott Morrison and his British counterpart Boris Johnson, US president Joe Biden said the pact was about enhancing their collective ability to take on the threats of the 21st century.

"Today we're taking another historic step, to deepen and formalise co-operation amongst all three of our nations, because we all recognise the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term,” Biden said.

"We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region, and how it may evolve."

Describing this threat as rapidly evolving, Biden said AUKUS was launching consultations on Australia's acquisition of conventionally armed submarines powered by nuclear reactors. The president emphasised that the submarines would not be nuclear-armed.

The general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, Rev James Bhagwan, said the move towards nuclear submarines was a serious concern for a region still dealing with the fallout from nuclear weapons tests.

"Three weeks ago, the current chair of Pacific Islands Forum, the prime minister of Fiji (Frank Bainimarama) reiterated that we want a Blue Pacific that is nuclear free. It's at the heart of Pacific regionalism," he said.

“From the 1960s, when the first tests started in our region, this is something that government, civil society, churches have all been very adamant against, to keep our Pacific nuclear-free.

“We are still dealing with the fallout from nuclear testing," Rev Bhagwan said.

"The ocean impacts our life. We are the fish basket of the world.

“So if one submarine comes in and something goes wrong and the nuclear waste from that submarine gets into our ocean, that's too much already."

Rev Bhagwan questioned how the pact stacks up with Scott Morrison's claims that Australia considers Pacific Islands countries as vuvale, or family.

"This is our Pacific way. Sometimes we don't agree, but we always act in the best interests, we always come and support one another," he said.

"This is not Australia acting in the best interests of the rest of its Pacific vuvale."

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the prohibition of nuclear powered vessels in its waters remains unchanged, adding that the pact "in no way changes our security and intelligence ties with these three countries".

She said New Zealand was first and foremost a nation of the Pacific which viewed foreign policy developments through the lens of what is in the best interest of the region.

Morrison said it was time to take the partnership between the three nations to a "new level", noting that "our world is becoming more complex, especially here in our region, the Indo-Pacific", a sign of the alliance's growing angst over China.

But the move towards nuclear submarines confronts the spirit of a nuclear free zone that Pacific regional countries signed up to decades ago.

Furthermore, the pact comes as the Pacific Islands Forum continues to protest about Japan's plans to dump treated nuclear waste water into the ocean from the Fukushima power plant damaged in an earthquake and tsunami 10 years ago.

China has described the pact as being detrimental to regional peace and stability.

Relations between Beijing and Canberra are at an all-time low, and a spokesman for the Chinese government urged Australia to think carefully whether to treat China as a partner or a threat.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)