China signals strong commitment to nuclear non-proliferation in Southeast Asia

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29th March 2023 – (Beijing) China has expressed its commitment to protecting Southeast Asia from nuclear threats by taking the lead in signing the Protocol to the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ Treaty). The move demonstrates China’s determination to act as a responsible major power, particularly in the face of the growing threat of nuclear war and non-proliferation in the region.

During a meeting with ASEAN Secretary-General Kao Kim Hourn on Monday, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang reiterated China’s willingness to work with ASEAN in advocating solidarity and win-win cooperation, jointly safeguarding regional security and stability.

The SEANWFZ Treaty, also known as the Bangkok Treaty, was signed by all ASEAN members in December 1995, as a commitment to preserve the Southeast Asian region as a region free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. China’s signing of the Protocol will make it the first of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to do so.

China’s move is expected to encourage other countries, particularly other nuclear-weapon states, to follow its steps. According to Xu Liping, director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, “Twenty years ago, China was the first among ASEAN’s dialogue partners to join the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. Now if China signs the Protocol, it will actually set up a good example and encourage other countries to follow its steps.”

Establishing a nuclear weapon-free zone in Southeast Asia is critical to regional peace and stability, as it ensures nuclear non-proliferation in the region and prevents extraterritorial countries from using nuclear weapons to flaunt their power. The current Asia-Pacific region is again facing nuclear threats, particularly with the formation of the AUKUS by the US, the UK and Australia.

Malaysian scholar John Pang recently wrote in a Global Times opinion piece that “AUKUS is the spearhead for the militarization and polarization of Southeast Asia. It is a raw application of the with-us-or-against-us logic of the rules-based order.”

China’s willingness to sign the Protocol to the SEANWFZ Treaty is a clear signal against countries that want to exploit certain issues to arm another country with nuclear technology in the Asia-Pacific, especially in Southeast Asia. Chinese military expert and TV commentator Song Zhongping believes that “AUKUS’ possible actions may provoke nuclear proliferation in the region, turning Southeast Asia into a training ground for nuclear weapons and an arena for the dangerous arms race.”

China’s moves will be just the beginning. Only when more countries, particularly those with nuclear weapons, decide to do the same can regional peace and stability be maintained. It is hoped that not only ASEAN countries but also more countries in the Asia-Pacific region will see the danger that AUKUS poses and work together to make the region a source of peace and stability rather than living in constant fear of nuclear proliferation and threats.