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Aukus ‘not an alliance’ – British High Commissioner

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Iona Thomas, the British High Commissioner to New Zealand. Photo / Supplied

The Aukus submarine pact is “not an alliance”, according to British High Commissioner to New Zealand Iona Thomas.

Thomas made the remarks in a speech to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs on Tuesday evening. The speech took in Thomas’ approach to foreign policy and the Indo-Pacific region, but given the domestic focus on whether New Zealand should join the non-nuclear pillar two of Aukus, her remarks on that topic are likely to be scrutinised closely.

The United Kingdom is one of the three pillar one partners of Aukus, which seeks to supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.

“I will start by stating what Aukus is not. It is not an alliance,” Thomas said.

While few in New Zealand have said that Aukus is a formal alliance, critics of the pact note that it often looks like a bit more than a simple technology-sharing deal, and that it appears to be an attempt by the partners to establish a new regional security grouping.

Labour MP Phil Twyford used the label “alliance” in a speech on Aukus in Parliament in January, alleging the pact was an alliance against China.

“If this Government wants to join the Aukus military alliance on the side of the US, the UK, and Australia, and against our biggest trading partner, it needs to explain to New Zealanders how that is consistent with New Zealand’s values and in line with our interests, and what the costs and benefits will be for our country,” Twyford said.

Thomas said Aukus is “not aimed at any one country”.

“It is not our intention to provoke anyone,” she said.

“Aukus is a trilateral defence and security partnership, focused on joint capability development and technology sharing between the UK, US and Australia. It is designed to support and promote stability in the Indo-Pacific region. It will provide Australia with nuclear powered but conventionally armed submarines.”

Though Aukus may not be an alliance, her remarks suggest it is a bit more than a simple technology-sharing deal.

“Aukus is founded on a belief in a world that protects freedom and respects human rights, the rule of law, the independence of sovereign states, and the rules-based international order. Our goal is to support a free and open Indo-Pacific where sovereignty and territorial integrity are respected, and states can make choices free from coercion, disinformation and interference; and disputes are peacefully resolved.”

Thomas said that the three Aukus partners would “seek to co-operate with third-country collaborators on pillar two in due course”.

The speech made an appeal for countries with shared values to stick together.

She said it was more important than ever to “stand with our friends” in the interests of stability.

“A more stable world is a more prosperous world,” she said.

Thomas Coughlan is Deputy Political Editor and covers politics from Parliament. He has worked for the Herald since 2021 and has worked in the press gallery since 2018.

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