China has agreed to be briefed over Australia’s plan to acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines despite ramping up criticism that the AUKUS pact amounted to a “Cold War mentality”.
More than 60 nations have taken up a briefing by the federal government about the plan in recent days as ministers and bureaucrats sought to allay fears about nuclear proliferation.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong offered to discuss the plan with her counterpart Qin Gang while she was in India, but it was not taken up.
However, the minister told ABC Radio that Chinese diplomats would be briefed alongside other nations on Wednesday.
China will be briefed about the AUKUS deal on Wednesday. Picture: Twitter
“This is a briefing about the government’s announcement and it’s part of the normal course of diplomacy,” Senator Wong said.
“We believe that one of the ways we can deal in the region, openly and clearly, to demonstrate our motivation is stability and peace is to be very transparent about our plans”.
Overnight, Beijing reiterated its concerns the agreement would “exacerbate” an arms race and undermine both regional stability and the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.
Under the “optimal pathway” revealed on Tuesday, Australia will undertake a three-phase plan to acquire the nuclear-powered vessels at an estimated cost of $268bn to $368bn over the next 30 years.
The three leaders announced the agreement in San Diego on Tuesday. Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images
Defence Minister Richard Marles warned that Australia would be “condemned by history” if it did not move forward with the program despite the eye-watering price tag.
“We are witnessing the largest conventional military build-up that the world has seen since the end of the Second World War,” Mr Marles told the ABC in reference to China.
“We would be condemned by history if we don’t put ourselves in a position where we can be able to guide Australia through that difficult set of strategic circumstances.”
The Coalition has pledged its support for the AUKUS program but has raised concerns about how the government intends to find $9bn to pay for its first four years.
“It is going to require sacrifice and that’s an important point,” Opposition Defence spokesman Andrew Hastie told ABC Radio.
Richard Marles says Australia will be condemned by history if it doesn’t act. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman
“We’re calling on the government to be transparent about where the cuts will be, what programs will be affected, what services will be affected.”
The government claims $3bn of that will come from cuts within Defence, while the remaining $6bn will come from the now-scrapped submarine deal with France.
Asked about the mammoth spending required to foot the bill, Mr Marles said the investment would provide an economic dividend in the long term.
“We’ve been upfront about the fact that Defence will be one of those pressures on the budget,” he said
“But I’d make the point, you can extrapolate any particular government program through to the mid-2050s and you’ll get a large number.”
Read related topics:China