KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia is hoping for a clear consensus among Southeast Asian nations on a new Indo-Pacific security partnership between Australia, the United States and Britain, its defense minister said on Tuesday.
The alliance known as AUKUS, announced last month, will see Australia acquiring technology to deploy nuclear-powered submarines as part of an agreement intended to respond to growing Chinese power, especially in the strategically important South China Sea.
The plan has divided countries in Southeast Asia, with Indonesia and Malaysia warning that it could lead to an arms race among rival superpowers in the region, while the Philippines, a US defense ally, has backed the pact.
Malaysia's Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told parliament on Tuesday a meeting with his counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) scheduled next month will present an opportunity for the bloc to agree on a shared response to AUKUS.
"Our endgame as always is to ensure the region's stability, regardless of the balance of powers (between) the US or China," he said.
"An understanding at ASEAN will help us in facing these two major powers."
AUKUS is largely seen as a response by Western allies to avert a Chinese hegemony in Southeast Asia, particularly in the South China Sea, a conduit for a third of ship-borne trade over which Beijing claims historical sovereignty.
Malaysia's foreign ministry last week summoned China's ambassador to Kuala Lumpur to protest the presence of Beijing's vessels in its waters.
China has said the AUKUS plan risks severely damaging regional peace and stability.
The United States, however, has said the alliance poses no threat to Indo-Pacific security and was not aimed at any one country.