Australia’s shift to nuclear-powered submarines will assure its South Pacific neighbours of its commitment to regional security, the UK’s Minister of State for the Indo-Pacific Anne-Marie Trevelyan has said.
Australia will announce in March what type of submarine powered with US nuclear technology it wants to build under a controversial deal with America and the UK which was revealed in September last year.
Ms Trevelyan told the National Press Club in Canberra that she expects the three nations to work closely together to deliver a fleet of eight submarines.
She said: “It’s going to be a really exciting project and … will assure, I think, not only for Australia, but for the Indo-Pacific region, for those Pacific islands, that assurance that Australia’s commitment to their security is unassailable.”
The previous Australian government infuriated French President Emmanuel Macron by cancelling a contract for a French-built fleet of 12 conventionally-powered submarines worth 90 billion Australian dollars (£50 billion). It opted instead for nuclear-powered versions.
This month, Mr Macron described Australia going nuclear as a “confrontation with China”.
Ms Trevelyan said she disagreed with Mr Macron’s stance that Australia should have stayed with the French contract.
She told the National Press Club: “The Pacific is a big place. Having nuclear-powered submarines means you can go further for longer, it’s a practical question.
“The French navy has nuclear-powered submarines. What they were proposing to build for (Australia), diesel submarines, is not what the French use.”
Australia’s government, elected in May after nine years in opposition, has been trying to build closer relations with its neighbours in a region where China is exerting more influence.
The government has accused the previous leadership of Australia’s worst foreign policy failure in the Pacific since the Second World War, following China’s signing of a security pact with the Solomon Islands in April.
That accord has raised fears that a Chinese naval base might be established in the South Pacific.