West News Wire: As United Kingdom expands a security deal with Australia amid continuing concerns about China’s power and influence in the region, the United Kingdom has contributed 25 million pounds ($34 million) as part of a promise to maintain “peace and stability” in the Indo-Pacific.
After a video meeting on Thursday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison said the cash would be used to “strengthen regional resilience in areas including as cybercrime, state threats, and maritime security.”
The statement also voiced “grave concerns” about alleged human rights breaches in Xinjiang, China’s far western region, and the situation in Myanmar, as well as the need of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the South China Sea.
The UK and Australia are deepening security ties as China becomes increasingly assertive about its territorial and maritime claims in the region.
In the South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by the southeast Asian nations that surround it, Beijing has built artificial islands and developed rocky outcrops into military bases, deploying its Coast Guard and a maritime militia to back its claim to almost the entire sea.
The joint statement said Johnson and Morrison recognised the importance of countries being able to exercise their maritime rights and freedoms in the South China Sea consistent with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“Leaders reiterated their strong opposition to any unilateral actions that could escalate tensions and undermine regional stability and the international rules-based order, including militarization, coercion, and intimidation,” it said.
In Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own, the Chinese air force has staged regular sorties into the island’s air defence zone and stepped up pressure on countries, companies, and organisations that engage with the self-ruled democracy.
Britain and the UK said there had also been “significant progress” in providing Australia with the nuclear-powered conventionally-armed submarines that were a key element of the AUKUS pact agreed with the United States last September. Along with the US, Japan and India, Australia is also a key member of the Quad, whose members last week agreed to further deepen security cooperation.
Discussions also focused on Myanmar, where the generals who seized power in a coup in February 2021, have used force against people opposed to its rule and has been accused of actions that could amount to war crimes for their attacks on civilians.
The UK and Australia called for the “immediate cessation of violence against civilian populations, the release of all those arbitrarily detained, including Australian Professor Sean Turnell, and unhindered humanitarian access”. Turnell, an economic adviser to elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was taken into detention shortly after the coup.
The two countries also urged the Myanmar military to implement the Five-Point Consensus to end the violence that was agreed with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) last April. ASEAN foreign ministers are currently meeting in Cambodia, but the military declined to participate after Myanmar was told it could only send a “non-political representative” because of its failure to implement the plan.
With Russian troops still massed near the Ukraine border, Johnson and Morrison also stressed the need for de-escalation of the situation.
“They underscored that any further Russian incursion in Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake and have a stark humanitarian cost,” the joint statement said.