Australia has not vowed to help the US defend Taiwan in the submarine deal

SYDNEY, March 19 (Reuters) – Australia has “absolutely” not pledged to support the US in a military conflict over Taiwan in exchange for a deal to acquire US nuclear-powered attack submarines, Australian Defense Secretary Richard Marles said on Sunday.

Australia, the US and Britain unveiled the multi-year AUKUS project on Monday. Canberra is to buy the US Virginia-class military submarines, with Britain and Australia eventually producing and operating a new submarine class, SSN-AUKUS.

Australia’s center-left Labor government says the $368 billion ($246 billion) deal is necessary given China’s military buildup in the region, which it calls the biggest since World War II.

When asked if Australia had made any commitment to assist the US during a conflict over Taiwan in exchange for access to the submarines, Marles told ABC television: “Of course not, and it was not sought”.

He said there was “absolutely no” consideration obligation for Australia from the deal.

China regards democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory and has never relinquished the option of taking the island back by force. President Joe Biden has said the US will defend Taiwan in the event of an “unprecedented attack” by China.

Under the AUKUS deal, which was applauded by Asian allies 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 was confident a planned visit to China to meet his counterpart Wang Wentao would go ahead despite AUKUS. Farrell said last month that the meeting was a signal that relations between Australia and China were 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 program begins with an investment of A$6 billion ($4 billion) over the next four years to expand a submarine base and the country’s submarine shipyards and train skilled workers.

Australia will also provide A$3 billion to expand US and UK shipbuilding capacity, most of it to accelerate production of US Virginia-class submarines.

($1 = 1.4937 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Sam McKeith; Edited by Josie Kao and William Mallard

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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