Australia has not vowed to help US defend Taiwan in submarine deal – minister
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia has “absolutely” not promised to support the US in a military conflict over Taiwan in exchange for a deal to acquire US nuclear-attack submarines, Australia’s Defense Minister Richard Marles said on Sunday .
Australia, the USA and Great Britain presented the decades-long AUKUS project on Monday. Canberra will purchase the US Virginia-class military submarines, while Britain and Australia will eventually produce and operate a new class of submarines, SSN-AUKUS.
Australia’s centre-left Labor government says the $368 billion (US$246 billion) deal is necessary amid China’s military buildup in the region, which it says is the largest since World War II.
Asked if Australia had given the US a commitment to help in a conflict over Taiwan in exchange for access to the submarines, Marles told ABC television, “Of course not, and no one was sought.”
He said there was “absolutely no” quid pro quo obligation for Australia from the deal.
China regards the democratically ruled Taiwan as its own territory and has never relinquished the possibility of retaking the island by force. President Joe Biden said the US would defend Taiwan in the event of an “unprecedented attack” by China.
Under the AUKUS deal, which Asian allies welcomed but Beijing called an act of nuclear proliferation, the US will sell three General Dynamics-built submarines to Australia in the early 2030s, with Australia having an option to buy two more buy.
Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell said Sunday he was confident a planned visit to China to meet his counterpart Wang Wentao would go ahead despite AUKUS. Farrell said last month’s meeting was a signal that ties between Australia and China were thawing.
According to a government transcript of his interview with Sky News, he expressed hope for Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s visit to China later this year.
The AUKUS program is set to start over the next four years with an AUD$6 billion (US$4 billion) investment to expand a submarine base and the country’s submarine yards and train skilled workers.
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Australia will also provide A$3 billion to expand US and UK shipbuilding capabilities, most of which will accelerate production of US Virginia-class submarines.
($1 = 1.4937 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Sam McKeith; Editing by Josie Kao and William Mallard)