Nuclear Subs Won’t Halt China-Australia Thaw, Ministers Say
(Bloomberg) -- Australia’s government is confident that plans to acquire a fleet of nuclear submarines under the Aukus agreement won’t derail progress in restoring its relations with China.
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Trade Minister Don Farrell said talks on reviving frozen ties were progressing well at an official level, and that an invitation for him to visit Beijing still stood. That’s despite the overarching aim of the security deal — finalized with the US and UK last week — being to counter China’s military ambitions in the Pacific.
“Everything is pointing in the right direction for a stabilization of the relationship and I’d be very confident that process will continue,” Farrell told Sky News on Sunday. “Of course, at the same time, we want to make sure that everything we do is in our national interest and dealing with the issues of our national security.”
After 18 months of negotiations, US and UK leaders last week announced details of their plan to provide a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia over 30 years. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin responded by saying the deal would “exacerbate” a regional arms race, and that the Aukus partners had “totally disregarded the concerns of the international community and gone further down the wrong and dangerous path.”
Canberra’s ties with Beijing unraveled in early 2020 after then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for a global investigation into the origins of Covid-19, which China viewed as part of a US-led effort to blame it for the pandemic. Beijing undertook a series of punitive trade actions on Australian products including barley, coal and wine, although it denied the moves were retaliatory.
Hostilities have gradually eased since the Labor government won power last year. China last week said it will allow all domestic companies to import Australian coal. Lobster exporters aren’t seeing the same obstacles that were previously in place, Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said this month, and there were early signs that curbs on beef and dairy were also beginning to ease.
While Australia is pursuing a “much better” relationship with its key trading partner, the Aukus accord will help ensure the maintenance of a rules-based global order as China ramps up its military presence in the South China Sea, Defence Minister Richard Marles told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Sunday.
Marles also said that Australia had “absolutely not” provided the US with any commitment of military support in the event of a Chinese conflict over Taiwan, as part of the submarine deal.
“We want the best relationship with China that we can have and we are working very hard to stabilize that relationship,” said Marles, who is also deputy prime minister. “But those hard power equation facts exist, and we need to be thinking about that when we’re determining our own hard power equation.”
(Updates with minister’s Taiwan comment in penultimate paragraph.)
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