The planned move to supply the Australian navy with nuclear-powered submarines through the security partnership between Australia, Britain and the United States, known as AUKUS, is likely to harm regional stability and raise tensions, several experts have said.
Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has voiced his concern that AUKUS would spark a regional arms race. The country's Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein also cautioned those involved with AUKUS against provocative military action that would lead to increasing tensions and possible conflicts in the region.
"This is a very damaging precedent set by the United States, Australia and the UK in forming this strategic pact ... definitely it is going to destabilize the region," said Lee Pei May, a political expert at the International Islamic University Malaysia.
Regional countries might use this as an excuse to acquire their own nuclear technology for military purposes, she said, warning against "an increased, intensified arms race in the region."
Member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have so far made it clear that nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered vessels are not welcome in the region, Malaysian political observer Azmi Hassan said.
Australia acquiring these submarines could cause tensions between Australia and ASEAN states, Azmi said.
"If Australia ignores our request to inform (us of) their submarines passing through," it will create tensions not only with Malaysia but also with ASEAN as a whole, he said.
AUKUS could also divide ASEAN states, which are being forced to abandon their neutrality and take sides, with some in favour of the deal while others against it, said the expert.
AUKUS and the way in which France was sidelined could make U.S. allies view it with some doubt, especially in the aftermath of its messy exit from Afghanistan, said Oh Ei Sun, principal advisor for Malaysia's Pacific Research Center.
These events deal a blow to the reputation of the United States, from which it will not likely recover in the near term, he said.
AUKUS "would of course anger France a lot," and "the other allies would, indeed, have to take a second look, when it comes to relying on the U.S. protection and so on," said the expert.
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