Australia has denied that recent nuclear deals with the UK and the US necessitate the nation to defend Taiwan from China, its defence minister has said. Minister Richard Marles said on Sunday that his country had not agreed to support the US’ defence of Taiwan, “nor was it sought” by US President Joe Biden despite their supplying Australia with nuclear submarines. Mr Marles said the nuclear agreement, part of the AUKUS partnership, was focused on countering China’s growing ambitions in the Indo-Pacific, but that such a move did not necessarily include concern for Taiwan.
Mr Marles was asked on Sunday whether Canbera had given any commitment to the US over the defence of Taiwan, to which he replied: “Of course not, and nor was one sought”.
Australia “absolutely” did not promise any such commitment, Mr Marles told Australia’s ABC Television.
His comments followed announcements from the three allies that Australia would buy a number of nuclear-powered attack submarines.
Australia will also launch a 30-year plan to build its own fleet of British-designed submarines.
The nation’s centre-Left Labor government says the multi-billion pound deal is necessary to counter China’s military buildup in the Indo-Pacific, and says it is an investment in the nation’s security.
The AUKUS announcement followed the striking of a deal last year between China and the Solomon Islands that could permit Beijing to build a military base 2,000 miles off the Australian coast.
China has also been accused of engaging in the construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea that could be militarised.
Despite fears that China could also look to invade Taiwan via an amphibious assault, a prospect that the US under Biden has hinted would warrant a military retaliation, Australia has now said that the geopolitical crisis does not come under their remit of countering Chinese threats in the Indo-Pacific.
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In an interview with The Telegraph last week, Penny Wong, Australia’s foreign minister, refused to speculate on how her country would react if China attacked Taiwan.
“What I will say is this: that peace is best preserved by the maintenance of the status quo, that Australia will continue along with others to urge all parties to ensure that there is no unilateral change to the status quo,” she said.
Taiwan has welcomed the AUKUS deal, notwithstanding Australia’s recent comments, saying it will help counter “authoritarian expansion”.
Beijing has condemned the AUKUS pact as “an act of nuclear proliferation” in comments redolent of their allies Russia, who have peddled a rhetoric of gaslighting Western nations for their own expansionism with regard to their neighbours Ukraine.
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Meanwhile, a British parliamentary delegation on Sunday began a six-day trip to Taiwan to talk about bilateral relations and regional developments.
The visit is being headed by Bob Stweart, chair of the British-Taiwanese All-Party Parliamentary Group.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said on Sunday that both sides “share the values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights”.