Australia ‘confident’ on nuclear submarines as defence, foreign ministers meet

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Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he was confident a deal for the US to sell nuclear powered submarines to Australia was on track, ahead of talks between defence and foreign ministers of the two nations on Friday.

Twenty-five US Republican lawmakers told President Joe Biden on Thursday the plan to sell three attack submarines to Australia under the Aukus partnership would “unacceptably weaken” the US fleet without a clear plan to replace them.

The lawmakers urged Biden to increase funding for the US submarine fleet, amid concern about China’s increasing military might.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin are in Queensland state for the annual Ausmin dialogue, where progress on the nuclear-powered submarine deal, regional security and clean energy will be the focus.

“I am very confident and spoke with their defence secretary Lloyd Austin last night,” Albanese told reporters on Friday, when asked about the Republican letter, which noted the Aukus agreement was “vitally important” but shouldn’t weaken the US fleet.

The US is Australia’s major security ally, and the Aukus project announced with Britain in March will see the US sell Australia three US Virginia class nuclear powered submarines in the early 2030s, before Britain and Australia produce a new submarine class – SSN-Aukus – the following decade.

“There is pressure on the American industrial base. We’ve well understood that. That’s why we’ll be making a contribution to it,” Australia’s Defence Minister Richard Marles said in a Sky television interview on Friday.

Australia has agreed to invest US$3 billion (about RM13.6 billion) in the US submarine industrial base as part of Aukus.

“Why this arrangement is going to be so advantageous for all three countries is because we will develop an industrial base in this country which will contribute to the net capability of Australia, the UK and the US,” he added.

China’s security ambitions in the Indo-Pacific will also be under discussion by the security allies.

“We’ve seen troubling (Chinese) coercion from the East China Sea to the South China Sea to right here in the Southwest Pacific, and will continue to support our allies and partners as they defend themselves from bullying behaviour,” Austin said before meeting with Marles on Friday.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong told reporters the US was “indispensable to the balance in the region”.

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