KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia on Wednesday said it plans to seek China's position on the new defence partnership between the United States, Britain and Australia, days after sounding the alarm that the pact could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region.
The alliance, known as AUKUS, will see Australia get technology to deploy nuclear-powered submarines as part of the agreement intended to respond to growing Chinese power, especially in the strategically important South China Sea.
Indonesia and Malaysia warned that it would lead to an arms race in the region amid a burgeoning superpower rivalry in Southeast Asia, while the Philippines has backed the pact as a means of maintaining the region's balance of power.
Malaysia's defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein on Wednesday proposed an immediate working trip to China to discuss AUKUS.
"We need to get the views from the leadership of China, especially China's defense, on AUKUS that was announced by the three countries and what are their actions following the announcement," Hishammuddin said in parliament.
China has said the plan risks severely damaging regional peace and stability.
Hishammuddin said he had urged his Australian counterpart Peter Dutton to approach Brunei, chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam - China's neighours - to address concerns about the region's security.
"Our strength is not when we are alone, our strength is when these 10 ASEAN member countries are united to see the position and security of the region be defended," he said.
Hishammuddin added that the current focus is to balance the two major powers in the context of AUKUS, plus Malaysia's relationship with the Five Power Defence Arrangements, a 1971 consultation pact reached at the height of the cold war between Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore.
He said that should be "used as leverage to balance the major powers."
(Reporting by Mei Mei Chu; Editing by Martin Petty) ((email@example.com; +603-2333-8005; Reuters Messaging: @meixchu on Twitter))