Why Did Australia Notify the Philippines of Its Nuclear Submarine Purchase?
According to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Australia’s Chief of Defense Force General Angus Campbell spoke with Philippine military chief General Andres Centino as a courtesy and inform the Philippines of this new development in the region. Of course, Australia did not need to do that, but it still went out of its way to do so.
”The phone call marked solid military coordination between the Philippines and Australia as partners in keeping the peace and stability in the South Pacific region,” the AFP said in a statement.
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But why did Australia see the need to inform the Philippines of its successful purchase of American nuclear submarines?
Submarines are a very big deal in the Asia Pacific. But nuclear-powered submarines are an even bigger deal, especially in a region with the most dangerous flashpoint in the world. That is why back in 2021 when Australia expressed its interest to acquire U.S.-made nuclear submarines, countries vehemently opposed Australia’s bid to acquire submarines.
Malaysia and Indonesia—which both possess a number of submarines in their navies—expressed staunch opposition to Australia’s ambition of adding nuclear-powered subs to its fleet, claiming the acquisition will spark an arms race in the South China Sea. China also opposed Australia’s nuclear submarine dream, claiming it will trigger another nuclear proliferation in the world.
Even Singapore, Australia’s most reliable ally in Southeast Asia, has expressed concern over the acquisition, according to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post. Singapore currently has four attack submarines in its navy—two from Sweden and two from Germany.
In Europe, Australia also finds unfriendly tones toward its submarine bid. France, which earlier negotiated the nuclear submarine deal with Australia, was furious they were one upped by the Americans. The French recalled their ambassador in the U.S. after Australia scrapped its nuclear submarine deal with France in favor of purchasing American-made subs.
Only one country supported Australia’s aspiration to acquire nuclear submarines: The Philippines.
The Crucial Statement from the Philippines
When everyone was ganging up on Australia, it was the lone voice of the Philippines that silenced everyone.
On September 19, 2022, then-Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. expressed support to Australia in its wish to expand its navy’s capabilities through the acquisition of nuclear submarines.
“The enhancement of a near-abroad ally's ability to project power should restore and keep the balance rather than destabilize it,” said Locsin.
“Proximity breeds brevity in response time; thereby enhancing an ASEAN near friend and ally's military capacity to respond to a threat to the region or challenge the status quo,” Locsin added. “This requires enhancing Australia's ability, added to that of its main military ally, to achieve that calibration.”
Although the Philippines has one of the weakest navies in the region, its voice shapes international order in the region. It has a long history of marshaling nations to certain causes surrounding the Pacific, especially Southeast Asian countries.
It was instrumental in forging the 2002 ASEAN-China Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. It also demonstrated its influence in 1996 when it rallied ASEAN against China at the height of the Mischief Reef incident when a Philippine gunboat fought a 90-minute battle with Chinese militia vessels in the West Philippine Sea.