Daniel Hurst – Indonesia's ambassador to Australia has raised new concerns about the sharing of advanced weapons technology under the Aukus security agreement, warning that it must not fuel a hypersonic arms race in the region.
In an interview with Guardian Australia, Siswo Pramono said the two countries were "not in quarrel" and remained in close talks about how to ensure the safety of Australia's plans to acquire at least eight nuclear-powered submarines.
But Pramono raised broader concerns about more recent plans by Australia, the US and the UK to cooperate on weapons that can travel at least five times the speed of sound.
"The concern is about the hypersonic arms race, because it's clearly in the program – you're talking about hypersonic weapons," he said.
Pramono said there was not much regulation of hypersonic weapons. He raised concerns that a hypersonic arms race in the region could come at the cost of stability "but also economic progress because it's very expensive".
The ambassador took care not to single out Australia but to address all countries that were developing such weapons: "The point is that please have more dialogue to prevent the very expensive hypersonics arms race in the region."
The former Morrison government had warned that Russia and China were "already developing hypersonic missiles which can travel at more than 6,000km per hour" and it had argued these weapons would be "one of the key technologies of combat in the future".
That prompted the announcement in April that the Aukus countries would expand their technology-sharing plans to cover both hypersonic weapons and defensive technology to counter such weapons.
This work has continued under the Albanese government, which has urged China to be transparent about its own rapid military buildup.
'Much, much closer'
Pramono said when the submarine plan was first announced just over a year ago, Indonesia and Australia had engaged in some "tough dialogues" and their stances had been "a bit far away at times".
"Now it's getting much, much closer in one year," he said during a wide-ranging interview at the Indonesian embassy in Canberra this week.
The proposal was significant, he said, because it would be the first time a nuclear weapons state had transferred naval nuclear propulsion material and technology to a non-nuclear weapons country for military purposes.
Indonesia was "concerned because we are the largest archipelago in the world" and hosted many naval choke points. It saw the potential for other countries to follow the Aukus precedent.
Pramono said there had been "a lot of dialogues between our delegation and the Australian delegation at the UN level".
"We are not in quarrel – these are dialogues among democracies on how to have the best practices and regulation as far as the nuclear-powered submarine is concerned."
Putin due to attend
Pramono made the comments before the G20 leaders' summit in Bali in two weeks.
He said Indonesia appreciated the new government's "courage" in deciding in June that the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, would attend the summit despite the potential attendance of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
Pramono said the announcement, made during the prime minister's early visit to Indonesia, occurred when the major developed countries – the G7 – had stepped up their "posturing" against Russia's attendance at the G20 over the war in Ukraine.
Pramono said Albanese's decision had given Indonesia "a lot of encouragement in performing the subtle diplomacy" required to make the G20 a success.
Australia had also been "very active and playing a very vital role in all of the working groups and engagement groups".
Pramono said the contribution to the global economy of developing countries in Asia had increased substantially over the past 20 years, while the G7 share had declined.
He said the G20 agenda reflected the priorities of developing countries, because they had suffered the most devastating impacts from the pandemic. He cited a lack of access to vaccines, medicines and health equipment "because at the time everyone closed the door".
Pramono said it would be a "nightmare" if these practices were repeated in any future pandemic. Improving the capacity of developing countries and the global health architecture was one of Indonesia's G20 priorities, alongside energy transition and digital transformation.
'Very positive' shift on West JerusalemThe ambassador said it was "very, very positive" to see the Australian government "correct" the previous government's decision to recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
He also warmly welcomed Australia's decision to abstain – after five years of explicitly opposing – an annual Indonesian-sponsored UN resolution on the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Pramono said Australia's shift would "give encouragement to others to believe that we are on the right path" in seeking a world free of nuclear weapons: "Your voice matters. Your stance matters."
He did not comment specifically on US plans to deploy up to six B-52 aircraft to Australia, but noted recent Lowy Institute polling had shown a decline in Australians' feelings of safety.
He said the "old way" to increase feelings of security was to have more weapons. The new way, promoted by Indonesia through the G20 and Asean, was "getting to know more your neighbours, engaging more with the neighbours and working together with them".
Pramono welcomed the resumption of ministerial talks between Australia and China after a two-year freeze. "This is what all of the major powers and all of the partners should do."