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Duterte: AUKUS deal should ‘not complicate’ ASEAN conflicts



US President Joe Biden participates virtually in the annual ASEAN Summit from the South Court Auditorium of the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP)

President Rodrigo Duterte called on the United States to ensure that its security pact with Australia and the United Kingdom would not complicate the security situation in Southeast Asia.

Duterte made the call before US President Joe Biden and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) during their virtual meeting on Tuesday.

Biden’s attendance marked the first time in four years that Washington has engaged at the top level meeting of the bloc — a move seen as key to countering China’s aggressiveness in the region.

“The President emphasized that arrangements such as Australia, United Kingdom, and United States (AUKUS) trilateral security partnership must complement and not complicate our working methods for cooperation,” according to Malacañang, which shared details of Duterte’s speech during the ASEAN-US Summit.

He was referring to the defense partnership which aims to promote information and technology sharing and strengthen the longstanding ties among the three countries.

The first initiative under AUKUS is an 18-month effort of the participating countries to purchase a nuclear-powered submarine fleet for the Royal Australian Navy — a move denounced by China over its supposed risks to intensify the international arms race.

AUKUS alliance is perceived as Washington’s attempt to oppose China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific, specifically in the South China Sea, where it lays claim on nearly 80 percent of the strategic water under its so-called nine-dash line, which has been invalidated by the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2016 ruling.

For his part, Duterte affirmed the Philippines’ commitment in working with other countries to ensure a “peaceful” and “stable” South China Sea.

He also noted that all of the region’s stakeholders should exercise self-restraint to “avoid untoward incidents that may further complicate the situation.”

Sea claimants, the President added, should peacefully resolve the maritime dispute in accordance with international law, particularly the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, and Taiwan have been locked in territorial rivalries in the South China Sea in tense decades-long standoffs.