Australia will remain undeterred on its path towards obtaining nuclear-powered submarines with the help of the US, despite stern warnings from China, the country’s defense minister has said.
“This is not the first time that we have seen different outbursts from China in terms of Australia’s positioning,” Defense Minister Peter Dutton said, adding that Australia will continue to stand by its neighbors to ensure peace and make the Indo-Pacific “a safer region.”
“That’s the reality. No amount of propaganda can dismiss the facts,” he said.
Dutton and Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne traveled to Washington to meet with their US counterparts Lloyd Austin and Antony Blinken shortly after the announcement of a trilateral security pact between the US, UK and Australia, known as AUKUS. Under the deal, which rattled China, Washington and London are to help Canberra build nuclear-powered submarines using American and British technology.
Dutton dismissed the fiery tone in the Chinese state-run media condemning the deal as “counterproductive, immature, and, frankly, embarrassing.”
“There is no sense in us pretending if we ordered 100 subs tomorrow we could compete with a superpower like China,” the minister told Sky News.
Asked about a possible “battle” over Taiwan, Dutton replied: “I don’t think it should be discounted.”
“Nobody wants to see conflict but that really is a question for the Chinese,” he said.
On Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called the AUKUS agreement “extremely irresponsible,” arguing that Australia’s nuclear submarine program will bolster an arms race and undermine regional peace and stability. “The export of highly sensitive nuclear submarine technology to Australia by the US and the UK proves once again that they are using nuclear exports as a tool for geopolitical game and adopting double standards.”
An editorial in China’s state-run Global Times newspaper warned that Canberra getting nuclear submarines “will effectively legalize the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines by all countries.”
AUKUS was unveiled amid a continuing standoff between the US and China, with both countries accusing each other of whipping up tensions in the South China Sea. The Pentagon has stepped up its so-called ‘freedom of navigation’ operations by sailing warships close to China’s maritime borders. Beijing, meanwhile, has increased military maneuvers near Taiwan.
Australia’s eastern neighbor, New Zealand, welcomed AUKUS, but said that nuclear-powered submarines must stay away from its waters due to the country’s 1984 nuclear-free zone policy.
“No vessels that are partially or fully powered by nuclear energy are able to enter our internal borders,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.