Australia’s defence minister said his country has not agreed to support a US military defence of Taiwan as part of the new Aukus nuclear submarine deal.
The security and defence pact between Australia, the US and Britain aims to counter China’s growing ambitions in the Indo-Pacific.
The three allies announced last week that Australia would buy up to five US nuclear-powered attack submarines in the early 2030s. Canberra will also launch a 30-year plan to build its own fleet of British-designed submarines.
On Sunday, Richard Marles, the Australian defence minister, was asked whether Canberra had given Washington any commitment to help in a conflict over Taiwan in return for the deal. “Of course not, and nor was one sought,” he replied.
Australia “absolutely” did not promise any such commitment, Mr Marles told Australia’s ABC Television.
Australia’s centre-Left Labor government says the US$245 billion deal is necessary to counter China’s military buildup in the Indo-Pacific, and says it is an investment in the nation’s security.
Beijing has condemned the Aukus pact as “an act of nuclear proliferation”.
The deal comes as fears grow that China may launch an invasion of Taiwan, a self-governing island that the Communist Party nevertheless claims. Beijing has increased military pressure on the island in recent years, and continued its campaign to squeeze Taiwan’s international space. Last week, one of Taiwan’s few remaining official allies, Honduras, announced it intended to ditch ties with Taipei in favour of Beijing.
Taiwan has welcomed the Aukus deal, saying it would help to counter “authoritarian expansion” in the region.
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.
Risking Beijing’s wrath, a British parliamentary delegation on Sunday began a six-day trip to Taiwan to talk about bilateral relations and regional developments.
It is headed by Bob Stewart, 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”.