Cook Islands Prime Minister and Forum Chair, Mark Brown has joined a growing list of Pacific leaders to object to the US$250 billion nuclear submarine deal between Australia, United Kingdom and the United States (AUKUS).
The AUKUS project, which will allow Australia to acquire upto eight nuclear-powered submarines, has been widely condemned by proponents of nuclear non-proliferation.
It has also fuelled concerns that the submarine pact, viewed as an arrangement to combat China, will heighten geopolitical tensions and disturb the peace and security of the region, which is a notion that Canberra has rejected.
Brown told Cook Islands News he was concerned about the Aukus deal because it is “going against” the Pacific’s principal nuclear non-proliferation agreement.
“We’ve all abided by the Treaty of Rarotonga, signed in 1985, which was about reducing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear vessels,” he told the newspaper.
The Treaty of Rarotonga has more than a dozen countries signed up to it, including Australia and New Zealand.
“But it is what it is,” he said of the tripartite arrangement.
“We’ve already seen it will lead to an escalation of tension, and we’re not happy with that as a region.”
Other regional leaders who have publicly expressed concerns about the deal include Solomon Islands PM Manasseh Sogavare, Tuvalu’s foreign Minister Simon Kofe, and Vanuatu’s Climate Change Minister Ralph Regenvanu.
With Cook Islands set to host this year’s Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) annual meeting in October, Brown – who is PIF chair – has hinted that the “conflicting” nuclear submarine deal is expected to be a big part of the agenda.
“The name Pacific means peace, so to have this increase of naval nuclear vessels coming through the region is in direct contrast with that,” he said.
“I think there will be opportunities where we will individually and collectively as a forum voice our concern about the increase in nuclear vessels.”
Brown said “a good result” at the leaders gathering “would be the larger countries respecting the wishes of Pacific countries.”
“Many are in opposition of nuclear weapons and nuclear vessels,” he said.
“The whole intention of the Treaty of Rarotonga was to try to de-escalate what were at the time Cold War tensions between the major superpowers.” This AUKUS arrangement seems to be going against it,” he added.