UK Invites ASEAN to Attend G-7 Meet Amid Criticism of AUKUS in Indo-Pacific
The invitation from the UK came on the day Chinese President Xi Jinping and ASEAN leaders announced the establishment of a China-ASEAN Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. Beijing has increased its engagement with the Southeast Asian countries since the announcement of an Australia-UK-US trilateral agreement dubbed AUKUS.
The UK has invited the 10-nation ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to attend a G7 Foreign Ministers meeting in Liverpool from 10 to 12 December. The UK government has termed the decision to invite these nations for the first time as a "sign of the UK's growing Indo-Pacific tilt".
"I will be hosting our friends and partners to discuss how we build closer economic, technology, and security ties globally and deliver for the British people," British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Monday.
Besides the ASEAN members, Foreign Secretary Truss will also welcome her counterparts from the US, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan, and the EU.
The announcement has come amid wide criticism of AUKUS -- a trilateral agreement between the US, UK, and Australia -- by the ASEAN nations, notably Malaysia and Indonesia.
Commenting on AUKUS on Saturday, Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto reckoned: "Our position is that of course South-East Asia should remain nuclear-free, and the fear is that this will spark an arms race, this will spark more countries seeking nuclear submarines, and we know now that the technology is there."
The Malaysian Defence Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, has advised the 10-nation bloc to remain united despite the pivot of global powers in this region, causing tensions.
"My concern with the developments of AUKUS – and sometimes it is rhetoric, sometimes it might be increased tensions, it might be reduced dialogue with regards to the two superpowers in our region – as it should not lead to unforeseen, unintended and accidental incidents in the South China Sea," Hussein underlined.
The minister reminded the regional and global powers about the beginning of the First World War, which was also accidental.
The White House announced on Friday that the three nations had reached an agreement on the transfer of "naval nuclear propulsion information" to the Australian military as part of the deal that founded the AUKUS group on 15 September.
Without referring to AUKUS, China's President Xi Jinping on 11 November warned against a return to Cold War tensions in the Asia-Pacific
Kurt Campbell, the White House co-ordinator for the Indo-Pacific who sat by President Joe Biden during the virtual meeting with Xi, said that "President Xi made very clear that a number of things that the United States is doing cause China some heartburn."
China Upgraded Ties with ASEAN
The first-ever invitation to ASEAN at G-7 also took place on the day when China upgraded ties with ASEAN by announcing its decision to import $150 billion worth of agricultural products over the next five years, offering additional financial assistance to the bloc's economic recovery, as well as providing advanced technology.
"China resolutely opposes hegemonism and power politics, wishes to maintain friendly relations with its neighbours and jointly nurture lasting peace in the region and absolutely will not seek hegemony or even less, bully the small," Xi said while attending and chairing a special summit commemorating the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-China dialogue relations on Monday.
Since mid-September when AUKUS was announced, China has taken several steps, including holding high-level meetings with the Southeast Asian countries. The 10-nation bloc, ASEAN, has a combined population of 661.5 million people and a combined GDP of around $3 trillion.
The inter-governmental organisation of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam also played a significant role in negotiating the RCEP agreement to create one of the world's largest free trade blocs.