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Australia has rejected criticism from China and France of Canberra’s decision to sign a defense pact with the United States and the United Kingdom to build nuclear-powered submarines, saying that the “incredible uncertainty in the Indo-Pacific” made the agreement was a necessity.
Peter Dutton, Australia’s defense minister, said the country would not be deterred from deepening its alliance with its Western partners after Beijing said the partnership would undermine regional stability and fuel an arms race.
“This is not the first time that we have seen different outbursts from China in terms of Australia’s position,” he said in Washington with Marise Payne, the Foreign Minister, after talking with the Secretary of State of the United States, Antony Blinken. and Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense. . “That is the reality, and no amount of propaganda can rule out the facts.”
The deal has also caused a furor in France because it replaced a multi-million dollar deal for Naval Group, the French defense contractor, to build conventional diesel-powered submarines for Canberra.
Dutton said the government had acted on the advice of its armed forces and that French technology was not a viable option to meet regional security needs for decades to come.
“The French have a version that is not superior to that operated by the United States and the United Kingdom,” he said.
The deal has gained wide support in Australia, with the main opposition party and voters backing the deal. An opinion poll by Roy Morgan found that 57 percent of Australians approved of it.
Rex Patrick, an independent senator and former diver who criticized the French deal, applauded the deal, saying the relationship with Paris was already “broken” due to delays and billions of dollars in cost increases.
“They originally intended to start the strategic partnership agreement in 2016 and conclude it in 2017. It was not finalized until 2019,” he said. “They even spoiled the agreement on how they were going to partner for two years.”
The security pact has raised deeper questions about how Canberra will balance the relationship between the United States, its closest diplomatic and military ally, and China, its biggest trading partner.
Xi Jinping, President of China, visited Australia in 2014 and delivered a speech to parliament, and the countries signed a trade agreement the following year.
Relations soured after Canberra introduced a foreign influence law three years later, following a scandal involving a Chinese businessman who made donations to an Australian MP.
The rift worsened after Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, repeatedly called for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus in China.
Beijing has retaliated by imposing sanctions on a variety of Australian products, including wine and barley, and Chinese officials have refused to take calls from their counterparts.
Morrison said he did not want to be forced to make a binary choice between Washington and Beijing, but the security agreement had interrupted that calculation, according to analysts.
“The relationship is bad and it’s getting worse, so [China] it may retaliate against Australia, but that was going to happen anyway, “said Brendan Sargeant, director of the Center for Defense and Strategic Studies at the Australian National University.
“If China’s strategic goal is to separate us from the US, then it has clearly failed, so that would mean that this would clearly upset them,” he said, adding that Beijing was well aware of Australia’s policy of “being friends of both and allies of one “. ”.