Australia yesterday formally embarked on a hotly contested program to equip its navy with nuclear-powered submarines in a new defense alliance with the UK and the US.
Australian Minister of Defense Peter Dutton joined US and British diplomats in signing an agreement allowing the exchange of sensitive “naval nuclear propulsion information” between their nations.
It is the first agreement on the technology to be publicly signed since the three nations in September announced the formation of a defense alliance, AUKUS, to confront strategic tensions in the Pacific where US-China rivalry is growing.
Photo: AFP / Australian Defence Force
The deal would help Australia to complete an 18-month study on procurement of the submarines, Dutton said after signing it in Canberra with US Ambassador to Australia Michael Goldman and British High Commissioner to Australia Victoria Treadell.
Details of the procurement have yet to be decided, including whether Australia would opt for a vessel based on US or British nuclear-powered attack submarines.
“With access to the information this agreement delivers, coupled with the decades of naval nuclear-powered experience our UK and US partners have, Australia will also be positioned to be responsible and reliable stewards of this technology,” Dutton said in a statement.
Under the AUKUS deal, Australia is to obtain eight state-of-the-art, nuclear-powered, but conventionally armed submarines capable of stealthy, long-range missions.
The UK has invited Southeast Asian nations to attend a G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in Liverpool, England, next month, in a move that risks highlighting concerns that AUKUS could fuel a regional nuclear arms race.
ASEAN member states are divided on AUKUS, but some, notably Indonesia and Malaysia, have sharply criticized it, and many in the 10-member bloc are reluctant to take sides in the unfolding rivalry between the US and China.
As many as 21 foreign ministers could attend, as Australia, India, South Africa and South Korea have also been invited.
“I want us to build a worldwide network of liberty that advances freedom, democracy and enterprise, and encourages like-minded countries to work together from a position of strength,” British Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Liz Truss said.
Beijing is likely to view this expansion of the G7, which represents the world’s most advanced economic powers, as an attempt to get the region to endorse AUKUS, and a more hard-edged military approach to China.
Beijing has described AUKUS as an “extremely irresponsible” threat to stability in the region.
Meanwhile, naval forces from Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan and the US on Sunday teamed up to conduct the ANNUALEX military exercises in the Philippine Sea, which end on Tuesday next week.
The navies are to practice “enhanced maritime communication tactics, anti-submarine warfare operations, air warfare operations, replenishments-at-sea, cross-deck flight operations and maritime interdiction maneuvers,” the US Pacific Fleet said on its Web site.
Additional reporting by the Guardian and staff writer
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