By Kirsty Needham
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia will build eight nuclear-powered submarines under a new Indo-Pacific security partnership with the United States and Britain that analysts say will likely rile China, which will see the pact as an attempt to contain it.
Australia, which was the second nation to have access to U.S. nuke technology in order to make nuclear-powered submarines after Britain in 1958, will be the only one. [L1N2QH2X7]
Scott Morrison, Prime Minster, said that “our world is getting more complicated, especially in our region of the Indo-Pacific.”
To meet these problems and to deliver stability and security to our region, it is time to take our partnership beyond the current level.
While the United States of America, Australia and Britain didn’t mention China in their announcements Wednesday about the new security group, Washington and its allies want to fight against China’s increasing power and influence. This includes its military buildup and pressure on Taiwan as well as its deployments and operations in the South China Sea.
China’s U.S. Embassy stated that no country should create exclusionary blocs which target or harm third-party interests.
The embassy stated, “In particular they should get out of the Cold-War mentality” and their ideological prejudices.
Richard Maude, Asia Society Policy Institute senior Fellow, stated that Beijing will view the trilateral agreement, which includes access to U.S. nuke submarine technology, as a threat.
China will view the announcements made today as another sign of its growing coalition for power balance. While China may object, it will be clear that its aggressive and uncompromising attitude is the driving force behind these new alliances.
Jacinda Adern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister welcomed the Indo-Pacific theme. However, she stated that Australia’s newly built nuclear-powered submarines wouldn’t be allowed to enter its territory waters as part of a long-standing nuclear-free policy.
I am happy to see the attention being turned towards our region by partners that we are close to. Ardern stated that it was a highly contested area and others could play a part in taking interest in the region.
SHOT ACROSS BOW
Morrison said Australia would scrap a $40 billion deal with France to develop conventional submarines to replace its ageing Collins-class fleet and negotiate over 18 months with the United States and Britain to build eight nuclear powered submarines. They will not be equipped with nuclear weapons.
Security analysts stated that nuclear-powered submarines are able to stay longer under water, which allows for stealth in areas where China might be involved, such as the South China Sea.
Bates Gill of Macquarie University’s Asia-Pacific Security Studies, said that Beijing will likely interpret the subs as a way to get around China.
The move was made to prevent hostile sea forces from entering Australia, similar to the previously announced plan to buy long-range anti-ship rockets. Gill stated that China was the country most likely to pose a threat to Australia.
Maude said that there was growing concern about China’s military buildup and future intentions, as well as the willingness to use coercion.
Analysts believe that while the trilateral security agreement could worsen Australia’s already strained relations with China, its appetite for resources might limit its harsher responses.
China has imposed severe tariffs on Australian exports in the past, as well as restrictions and bans on imports of certain items, including wine, beef, and barley. This was done to protest Australia’s foreign policy.
To discuss security, Morrison will be traveling to Washington in the month of March to meet with leaders from the Quad (a group which includes India and Japan).