Australia did not promise to help US defend Taiwan in submarine deal – minister

SYDNEY, March 19 (Reuters) – Australia “absolutely” did not promise to support the United States in any military conflict over Taiwan in exchange for a deal to acquire U.S. nuclear-powered attack submarines, Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said on Sunday.

Australia, the United States and Britain announced the multi-year AUKUS project on Monday. Canberra plans to purchase the US Virginia-class military submarines, and the UK and Australia will eventually produce and operate a new class of submarines, the SSN-AUKUS.

Australia’s centre-left Labor government says the A$368 billion ($246 billion) deal is necessary given China’s military buildup in the region, the largest since World War II.

Asked if Australia had committed to the US helping Taiwan during the conflict in exchange for access to submarines, Marles told ABC television: “Absolutely not, and none was sought”.

He said the deal did not involve any consideration for Australia.

China considers the democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory and has never renounced the use of force to retake the island. President Joe Biden has said the United States will defend Taiwan in the event of an “unprecedented attack” by China.

In the AUKUS deal, which was welcomed by Asian allies but which Beijing has called nuclear proliferation, the US will sell Australia three submarines built by General Dynamics in the early 2030s, and Australia can buy two more.

Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell said on Sunday that he was confident that a planned visit to China to meet his counterpart Wang Wentao would go ahead despite AUKUS. Mr Farrell said last month the meeting was a sign of a thaw in Australia-China relations.

He said he hoped Prime Minister Anthony Albanese would visit China this year, according to a government transcript of his Sky News interview.

The AUKUS program is set to begin with an investment of A$6 billion ($4 billion) over the next four years to expand the submarine base and the country’s submarine shipyards and train skilled workers.

Australia also plans to provide A$3 billion to expand US and UK shipbuilding capacity, most of which will speed up production of the US Virginia-class submarines.

($1 = 1.4937 Australian dollars)

Reporting: Sam McKeith; Editing: Josie Kao and William Mallard

Our standard: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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