China has ramped up its attack on Australia’s nuclear submarine plan and accused the AUKUS alliance of stirring up an “arms race”.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will on Tuesday unveil the government‘s plan to acquire nuclear submarines in San Diego alongside Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak.
Mr Albanese has refused to confirm the deal but leaks from the UK and US suggest Australia will acquire a fleet of British-designed vessels.
But the submarines, known as the SSNR, are in the design phase and it will be a number of years before they are operational.
In the meantime, the reports suggest Australia will purchase several US Virginia-class submarines as a stopgap measure in the early 2030s.
Acting Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles also declined to confirm the details of the acquisition but described it as “a really big step for the country”.
“This is the biggest step forward in our military capability we’ve had since the end of the Second World War,” Mr Marles told Nine.
“There is nothing which gives any adversary a second thought more than a capable submarine, which is why it is so important that we are bringing to bear this capability in the future.
In its first response since the news was leaked, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning warned that the deal posed “serious nuclear proliferation risks” and would undermine peace and stability in the region.
“We urge the United States, the UK and Australia to abandon the Cold War mentality and zero-sum game, faithfully fulfil their international obligations and do things that contribute to regional peace and stability,” she said.
Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham dismissed China’s comments as “disingenuous and hypocritical”.
“It has been China in recent years driving significantly their growth in their military assets and their military capabilities,” the senator told Sky News.
“For them off the back of that to then somehow make accusations that Australia is engaging in a militarisation of our region, that is profoundly untrue.”
Australia would become the seventh country in the world to operate nuclear submarines.
Mr Marles credited the work his regular sparring partner, and former defence minister Peter Dutton, did to get the deal off the ground.
Last week, Mr Dutton urged the government to acquire its future submarine fleet from the US, not the UK.
UK High Commissioner Vicki Treadall swiftly shut down his “unhelpful” comments, telling the National Press Club this week that Mr Dutton didn’t know what he was talking about.
Speaking on Friday, Mr Dutton claimed there was “no rebuke” whatsoever from Ms Treadall.
“She said no such thing, just to put that into perspective. and I have confirmed that with her by text yesterday, so I wouldn’t believe that media speculation,” he told Nine.
Mr Dutton said the nuclear submarine acquisition plan was best for Australia.
“It is important for Australia to take a bit of a lead because we are in the middle of any impending war that comes,” he added.