May 23, 2024

(Bloomberg) — South Korea is discussing participation in the Aukus security pact as a research partner, Defense Minister Shin Wonsik said, the latest major country in the Indo-Pacific to examine cooperating with the US-led group.

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At an annual meeting of South Korean and Australian officials, Shin said there were discussions about how Seoul could contribute to Pillar II of the Aukus agreement, which focuses on research collaboration in areas of strategic significance such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

“We welcome that Aukus members are considering Korea as an Aukus Pillar II partner,” Shin said at a news conference in Melbourne on Wednesday. “Korea’s defense science and technology capabilities will contribute to the peace and stability of the development of Aukus Pillar II and regional peace.” The minister’s comments came via a translator.

South Korea is the latest country to explore the possibility of working with Aukus, with both Japan and New Zealand flagging their interest in recent months.

Aukus is a security partnership signed by Australia, the UK and the US in September 2021, designed to boost all three countries’ defense and research capabilities at a time of growing competition with China.

Under the first pillar of the Aukus pact, the UK and US will work with Australia to help Canberra field a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines by the 2030s. However, it is the strategic research partnerships under Pillar II of Aukus that interests regional partners including Seoul.

While Japan, New Zealand and now South Korea have all expressed interest in working together with Aukus partners, Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has ruled out any suggestion of formally expanding the pact beyond its initial three members in the short term.

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