Australia's move on nuclear submarines raises concern

2024-03-28 09:36:24China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

Despite growing concerns over costs, capabilities, and risks to national interests, Australia has committed to collaborating with the United States and the United Kingdom to advance the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarines, a move experts predicted would escalate domestic opposition and heighten regional tensions.

Australia has pledged $3 billion to support British industry in constructing nuclear-powered submarines, ensuring the timely delivery of its new fleet, as announced by both countries last Friday.

Grant Shapps, British defense secretary, emphasized the ongoing importance of AUKUS while drawing attention to the so-called "China threat" in his remarks.

However, the trilateral agreement has faced domestic criticism and protests from the outset. On March 18, local unions and environmental groups in Australia urged the government to abandon plans for a base while holding a protest outside the parliament house, the latest demonstration in a series, some of which drew as many as 5,000 protesters.

The establishment of the base is a key component of AUKUS, Australia's largest defense initiative since World War II. In total, the submarine project could cost up to $240 billion over the next 30 years.

"We don't want to be part of someone else's belligerent nuclear plans," said Arthur Rorris, head of the South Coast Labor Council, comprising unions representing 50,000 workers in the area.

They fear the base could choke an infant clean energy sector by taking up scarce land and ushering in security curbs, as well as the permanent presence of U.S. warships. Faced with strong opposition, the government said it hadn't decided on Port Kembla, a favorable location for the base, as local media had reported.

Chen Hong, director of the Australian Studies Centre at East China Normal University in Shanghai, said the protests against AUKUS signify a growing awareness among Australians of the detrimental consequences of the military pact on national interests and regional stability.

"By taking part in the U.S.-led trilateral military pact, Australia hopes to get nuclear submarine technologies and more security promises from the United States and the United Kingdom. However, this move will drag the country and its people into a potential war as the Australian government keeps supporting U.S. hegemony and surrenders its land for U.S. warships," Chen said.

AUKUS, established in 2021, aims to bolster Australia's military capabilities by providing it with nuclear-powered submarines.

Fueling tensions

"Through AUKUS, the U.S. and its Western allies are trying to weaponize Australia and force the country to join its 'anti-China' bloc. Plus, the U.S. has kept pushing forward its 'Indo-Pacific' strategy, which also involves Australia, fueling tensions in the whole region," he said.

Daryl Guppy, an international financial technical analyst and former national board member of the Australia China Business Council in Melbourne, said that some Australian politicians have moved closely with the U.S. on the assumption that U.S. and Australian interests are largely the same, which has undermined Australia's sovereign independence.

Apart from the political turbulence, Chen also said the nuclear submarine pact will raise concerns over nuclear proliferation and cause environmental influences that will damage the health of local communities.

"Australia has long championed nuclear-weapon-free zones and was a founding member of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. However, Australia's attempt to acquire nuclear submarines will undermine its nuclear-free promise," Chen said.

As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Australia recently, experts are expecting that the two countries can collaborate to improve the bilateral relationship.

"China and Australia can work together to find more common grounds and build a more stable, mature and fruitful comprehensive strategic partnership, which will benefit the peoples of the two countries," Chen said.

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