Australia has ‘absolutely not’ committed to join US in event of war over Taiwan, Marles says.
Australia has “absolutely not” given the US any commitment as part of the Aukus negotiations that it would join its top security ally in a potential future war over the status of Taiwan, the deputy prime minister has said.
Richard Marles made the comment as he continued to defend Australia’s multi-decade plan to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, with help from the US and the UK, at a total cost of up to $368bn between now and the mid-2050s.
He told the ABC’s Insiders program the Aukus submarines would back up Australia’s interest in protecting trade and freedom of navigation and flight in the South China Sea.
Marles said he would not speculate about a future conflict over Taiwan – a self-governed democracy of 24 million people that China has not ruled out taking by force – but argued it was “a completely separate question”.
The US is planning to sell Australia at least three – and as many as five – Virginia-class submarines in the 2030s. This attempts to fill the “capability gap” between the retirement of Australia’s diesel-electric Collins-class submarines and the entry into service of British-designed, Australian-built nuclear-powered submarines from the 2040s.
The ABC’s David Speers asked Marles whether Australia had explicitly or implicitly given the US a commitment that it would join the ally in the event of a conflict over Taiwan, in return for access to the Virginia-class submarines.
“The answer to that is of course not,” Marles replied. “Of course not – and nor was one sought. I’ve listened to that conjecture from a number of commentators. It is plain wrong.”
Marles reiterated that “the moment that there is a flag on the first of those Virginia-class submarines in the early 2030s is the moment that that submarine will be under the complete control of the Australian government of the day”.
China’s foreign minister, Qin Gang, earlier this month reiterated that Taiwan was “part of the sacred territory of the People’s Republic of China” and warned of “conflict and confrontation” if the US “does not hit the brake but continues to speed down the wrong path”.
Marles said the nuclear-powered submarines would have “the capacity to operate in the context of war” but the primary intent here was to “make our contribution to the stability of the region, to the collective security of the region”.
“What Australians do in respect of any conflict is always a matter for an Australian government of the day to control, and this doesn’t remove any one ounce of that control.”