TOKYO — Former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says it is too early to expand his country’s AUKUS security pact with the U.S. and the U.K. to countries such as Japan or India.
“AUKUS was always set up to be a trilateral arrangement,” Morrison told Nikkei Asia on Friday, on the sidelines of a conference in Tokyo.
“It’s very new, so I think it’s probably premature to be going down the path of other participants,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities for countries like Japan, in particular, to engage with AUKUS.”
Under the pact, Washington and London will assist Canberra in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines, and the three nations will cooperate on military capabilities such as cyber, AI, hypersonic and other technologies.
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the U.K.’s House of Commons Defense Select Committee, suggested last month that countries such as Japan and India should be added to AUKUS to develop a “NATO” for the Asia-Pacific region.
China’s Foreign Ministry responded to Ellwood’s comment by saying: “AUKUS is essentially about fueling military confrontation through military collaboration. It is apparently driven by Cold War thinking.”
Morrison was in Tokyo to speak at an event organized by the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China. The multinational cross party group says its concerns include: “Beijing’s threats to Taiwan, its use of economic coercion, its growing long-arm policing and malign influence operations abroad, as well as its gross domestic human rights abuses.”
Other speakers included former British Prime Minister Liz Truss, former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, and parliamentarians from Japan, Taiwan and Canada. The group called for a “coordinated democratic response to Beijing’s distortion of the international rules-based order” ahead of May’s Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima.
Speaking with Nikkei Asia, Morrison said that he welcomed NATO’s move to reach out to countries in the Indo-Pacific — as seen in Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s recent visits to South Korea and Japan.
“We don’t want NATO to have such a Eurocentric view of the world that they’re not aware of what’s occurring in the Indo-Pacific now,” he said, adding that it was good “countries like Australia are more frequently participating in discussions.”
NATO is considering issuing a joint statement for its next summit together with Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, Nikkei reported this week, citing unnamed officials and diplomats.
But Morrison said that he did not think those nations see NATO having some sort of role in the Indo-Pacific as a “keeper of the strategic balance.”
Morrison added that he was pleased that Australia’s diplomatic dialogue with China has resumed, and that there were signs Beijing may be loosening its import ban on commodities such as coal.
“President Xi [Jinping] may have changed his tactics, but his intent is still the same,” he said.
“The fact that Australia stood up, the United States stood up, many other countries did as well, has caused a reassessment of China’s international relations approach,” Morrison said. “It’s more tactical than strategic, but nevertheless it does show that there are a lot of countries who have allied interests, and they should pursue ways of demonstrating that.”
Truss, the U.K.’s shortest-serving prime minister, devoted much of her first public overseas trip since resigning in October to Taiwan.
“We should find ways to elevate Taiwan’s status that reflects its global value,” she said, citing its exclusion from organizations such as the World Health Organization.
“It’s so important to do all we can to support Taiwan — because prevention is better than cure. If we build up the defense links now, if we build up the economic links now, that will help protect Taiwan and protect freedom.”
Taking many swipes at China, Truss also advocated a “a more developed Pacific defense alliance… alongside even closer cooperation between NATO and our Pacific allies.”
“Now is the time to make sure trade and commerce is free and not coercive. There are ways this can be done… we could move to an economic Article 5, where the ‘one for all, all for one’ principle is wielded in defense of fundamental values.”