China said Tuesday that it is willing to work with ASEAN countries to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free zone while also guaranteeing stability in the disputed South China Sea, the South China Morning Post reported.
Political observers said China has expressed significant support for a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Southeast Asia as it strives to deepen regional alliances, prompted by concerns about the new AUKUS security treaty.
While Beijing has yet to sign the protocol to the Asean treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons in the region - despite expressing a willingness to do so for more than two decades - they said that pressure from the new partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States could expedite the process.
"China supports Asean's efforts to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone and is prepared to sign the Protocol to the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone as soon as possible," President Xi Jinping said at the China-Asia summit commemorating the two countries' 30th anniversary of relations.
China's call for a nuclear-free Southeast Asia comes as the U.S. and Britain arm their partner Australia with nuclear-armed submarines as part of the AUKUS arrangement signed in September.
During his speech, Xi also announced the foundation of the China-Asean Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which he described as a "new milestone" in bilateral relations.
"Preserving peace is our greatest shared interest and the most treasured ambition of the peoples of all countries," he said, urging governments to pursue a path of "conversation rather than confrontation."
The Treaty of Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ), signed by Asean nations in 1995, is a pledge to maintain the region free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.
China stated that it will sign the treaty's protocol within years, but none of the treaty's five lawful nuclear powers - the U.S., Russia, China, the UK, and France - have signed. They would be prohibited under the protocol from developing, manufacturing, or possessing nuclear weapons, or from receiving assistance to do so.
Additionally, Xi emphasized the importance of expanding cooperation in a variety of areas, including defense, counterterrorism, cooperative marine search and rescue, transnational crime, and disaster management.
China will donate an additional 150 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to ASEAN countries, as well as contribute an additional $5 million to the COVID-19 Asean Response Fund, Xi said.
China will also fast-track vaccine joint production and technology transfer, as well as collaborate on research and development of essential medicines, the Chinese leader added.