Australia Hails Nuclear Submarine Deal With U.S. and UK as Counter to Military Buildup in Pacific

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s defense minister said Tuesday a deal to buy nuclear-powered attack submarines from the United States is necessary to counter the largest conventional military build-up in the region since World War II.

Australian officials said the deal would cost up to $245 billion over the next three decades and create 20,000 jobs. It comes at a time when China is rapidly building its own army.

Australia’s Defense Minister Richard Marless said it had undertaken a massive diplomatic effort for months before announcing the deal on Monday, including making more than 60 calls to regional and world leaders. He said Australia had even offered to keep China in the loop.

We have given a briefing. “I did not participate in a briefing with China,” Marlies said.

Asked by reporters if China refused to brief or responded at all, Marlies replied: “I am not aware of that response.”

Without specifically mentioning China, Marless said Australia needed to respond to military build-ups in the Pacific.

“Failure to do so will result in history condemning us,” he said.

China has said the agreement poses serious proliferation risks and stimulates an arms race.

“We urge the United States, Britain and Australia to abandon the Cold War and zero-sum game mentality, sincerely fulfill their international obligations and do more to contribute to regional peace and stability,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning at a daily press briefing Thursday.

Marless said Australia intends to increase its military capabilities and spend more on defense in the future, which is something it wants to be transparent about.

“You know, our concern about other military build-ups is that they happen in such an opaque way that neighbors are left uneasy about why they happen,” he said. “That’s why we’ve taken such an effort to explain exactly why we’re taking the steps we’re taking.”

US President Joe Biden announced the deal in San Diego with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Albanese said the agreement “represents the largest single investment in Australian defense capability in all of our history.”

Australia is buying three, possibly as many as five, Virginia-class boats as part of the deal. Under the so-called AUKUS partnership, a future generation of submarines will be built in Britain and Australia with technology and support from the United States.

Australia estimates the deal will cost it between 268 billion and 368 billion Australian dollars ($178 to $245 billion).

Biden assured that the ships will not carry nuclear weapons of any kind. Albanese said he does not believe the deal will spoil its relationship with China, which he noted has improved in recent months.

The secretly struck AUKUS deal involved the Australian government’s cancellation of a $66 billion contract for a French-built fleet of conventional submarines, sparking a diplomatic row within the Western alliance that took months to mend.

On Tuesday, Marlies seemed eager to get on with it.

“Operationally, we are building our relationship with France, at a much greater pace than military exercises, with greater access to our bases on the Australian continent but also to French bases in the Pacific and indeed in the Indian Ocean,” he said.

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