SYDNEY – Australia “absolutely” did not promise to support the United States in any military conflict over Taiwan in return for a deal to acquire American nuclear-powered attack submarines, Australia’s Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Sunday.
Australia, Britain and the US unveiled the multi-decade Aukus project last Monday. Canberra is buying the US Virginia-class military submarines, with Britain and Australia eventually producing and operating a new submarine class, SSN-Aukus.
Australia’s centre-left Labor government says the A$368 billion (S$330 billion) deal is necessary, given China’s military build-up in the region, which it has labelled the largest since World War II.
Asked whether Australia had given the US any commitment to help during a conflict over Taiwan in return for access to the submarines, Mr Marles told ABC television: “Of course not, and nor was one sought.”
China views Taiwan as its own territory and has never renounced an option of taking the island back by force. President Joe Biden has said the US would defend Taiwan in the event of “an unprecedented attack” by China.
Under the Aukus deal, which Asian allies welcome but which Beijing has called an act of nuclear proliferation, the US will sell Australia three submarines, built by General Dynamics, in the early 2030s, with an option for Australia to buy two more.
Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell said on Sunday he is confident a scheduled visit to China to meet his counterpart Wang Wentao will go ahead, despite Aukus.
Mr Farrell said in February that the meeting is a signal that Australia-China relations are thawing.
He expressed hope for a visit to China by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese this year, according to a government transcript of his interview with Sky News.
The Aukus programme is to start with a A$6 billion investment over the next four years to expand a submarine base and the country’s submarine shipyards, and train workers.
Australia is also set to provide A$3 billion to expand US and British shipbuilding capacity, with most of that to speed up production of US Virginia-class submarines. REUTERS