- Australian defence minister Peter Dutton warned war with China is possible and his country should prepare
- Said China and US have made their positions over Taiwan ‘clear’ and risk of fighting ‘shouldn’t be discounted’
- Comes after country signed historic AUKUS pact with America and Britain to acquire nuclear-powered subs
- Beijing has fumed at the new alliance, with state newspaper warning Australia could be targeted with nukes
- Boris Johnson was asked whether pact could drag Britain into any fighting, and refused to rule anything out
PUBLISHED: 22:43 AEST, 17 September 2021 | UPDATED: 00:59 AEST, 18 September 2021 992View comments
Australia’s defence minister has admitted that war with China over Taiwan is a possibility and warned that his country needs to start preparing – just a day after signing an historic defence pact with the UK and US.
Peter Dutton, speaking from Washington where he is meeting with US officials, insisted that the new alliance – which will give Australia at least eight nuclear submarines and other advanced military technology – was about securing ‘peace’ in the region but the odds of a conflict with China ‘shouldn’t be discounted’.
‘The Chinese.. are very clear of their intent with regard to Taiwan [and] the United States has been very clear of their intention toward Taiwan,’ he said. ‘Nobody wants to see conflict but that really is a question for the Chinese.’Dailymail.co.uk: News, Sport, Showbiz, Celebrities from Daily MailPauseNext video0:16 / 2:21SettingsFull-screenRead More
President Xi Jinping has vowed to ‘reunify’ Taiwan with China in the near future, and in 2019 said he will use force if necessary. Meanwhile Joe Biden recently vowed to defend the island if it is attacked – though officials later said he ‘misspoke’ and that America’s long-standing policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’ remains in place.
Mr Dutton issued the grim warning as Beijing continues to fume over the submarine pact – dubbed AUKUS – with state newspapers penning furious columns while unnamed military sources warned the deployment of nuclear-powered subs could make Australia the target of a nuclear strike.
Meanwhile Boris Johnson was forced to defend Britain’s involvement in the alliance amid fears the UK could now be dragged into fighting in the South China Sea. The Prime Minister refusing to rule anything out, telling the House of Commons: ‘The United Kingdom remains determined to defend international law.’
Underlining the immediacy of the threat, Taiwan said its air force was today scrambled to warn away Chinese jets – including eight fighters and two support aircraft – that had strayed into its airspace.
Australian Defence Minister: ‘Our desire is to maintain peace’
Australia will acquire at least eight nuclear-powered submarines and a host of other advanced military technology from the UK and US after singing an historic deal aimed at countering China’s growing power+7
Australia’s defence minister has today admitted that war with China is possible in the South China Sea (pictured) with Taiwan (top) as the likely flashpoint. China claims control over the whole of the sea, which other nations dispute +7
The pact does not make the design of Australia’s new submarines clear, but they will be based on previous US and UK designs. Pictured above is a cross-section of Britain’s Astute-class nuclear attack subs, which is likely to mirror the new vessels
Furious EU complains that it was ‘not consulted’ on AUKUS submarine deal
The EU has complained that it was ‘not consulted’ on the AUKUS submarine deal while France has lashed out at Australia for ‘stabbing it in the back’.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, said the union was only made aware of the new alliance through the media.
And French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has accused the Australians of a betrayal because the alliance meant they scrapped a multi-billion deal for France to provide subs.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace insisted Britain did not ‘go fishing’ for the pact to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia with the US after France called it a ‘stab in the back’.
The UK, US and Australia agreed to co-operate on the development of the first nuclear-powered fleet for the Australian navy in a ground-breaking agreement dubbed AUKUS.
But this meant that Canberra ripped up a deal worth around £30billion that was struck with Paris in 2016 for France to provide 12 diesel-electric submarines.
A diplomatic row broke out, with Mr Le Drian telling France-Info radio: ‘It was really a stab in the back.
‘We built a relationship of trust with Australia, and this trust was betrayed.’
Meanwhile Mr Borrell, ex-President of the European Parliament, said: ‘This alliance we have only just been made aware and we weren’t even consulted.
‘As high representative for security, I was not aware and I assume that an agreement of such a nature wasn’t just brought together over night. I think it would have been worked on for quite a while.’
He added: ‘We regret not having been informed – not having been part of these talks. We weren’t included, we weren’t part and parcel of this.’
Mr Wallace said he recognises the ‘frustration’ from France after speaking to his French counterpart Florence Parly on Wednesday night.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘I understand France’s disappointment.
‘They had a contract with the Australians for diesel-electrics from 2016 and the Australians have taken this decision that they want to make a change.
‘We didn’t go fishing for that, but as a close ally when the Australians approached us of course we would consider it. I understand France’s frustration about it.’
Boris Johnson told MPs today that the UK’s military relationship with France is ‘rock solid’ and insisted ‘we stand shoulder to shoulder with the French’ despite the row.
The Prime Minister met with his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, and US President Joe Biden at the G7 summit in Cornwall in June.
Downing Street confirmed that the three leaders discussed the subs at the meeting.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman added: ‘I wouldn’t say there was one single meeting that did it, this has been something that has been an undertaking of several months, it’s a culmination of that work.’ADVERTISEMENT
Combat aircraft were sent to drive away the Chinese jets, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said, while missile systems were also deployed to monitor them.
Self-governing Taiwan, which is home to the remnants of the Republic of China which fought against the Communist Party when it first emerged, views itself as an independent state while Beijing views it as a breakaway province. It has long-standing ties with the US, which historically recognised it as the legitimate government.
The island’s government has complained for a year of repeated missions by China’s air force near its borders, often in the southwestern part of its air defense zone close to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.
The incident came a day after Taiwan proposed extra defense spending of $9billion over the next five years, including on new missiles, warning of an urgent need to upgrade weapons in the face of a ‘severe threat’.
Speaking earlier on Friday, Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang said the government had to take the threat from China seriously. ‘The Chinese Communists plot against us constantly,’ he said.
Taiwan’s defense spending ‘is based on safeguarding national sovereignty, national security, and national security. We must not relax. We must have the best preparations so that no war will occur,’ he added.
China’s government, for its part, criticized Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu on Friday for comments this week in which he said Taiwan was a ‘sea fortress’ blocking China’s expansion into the Pacific.
Wu’s ‘aim is to deceive public opinion, to rope in and collude with anti-China foreign forces,’ China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said in statement.
Tensions have been simmering in the South China Sea – a strategic body of water located between China, Vietnam, and the Philippines – for years, but have been brought to a head recently because of Beijing’s increasingly aggressive posturing.
President Xi lays claim to the body of water in its entirety, which would had him control over valuable shipping lanes, oil and gas deposits, and fertile fishing grounds which provide a large source of food in the region.
But the Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam also lay partial claim to the waters and have been supported by the US and other western powers who are keen to deny Beijing control over the strategic asset.
In violation of international law, China has been building military bases on artificial islands – including the Spratly and Paracel Islands – and warning other nations to keep away from them.
America and Britain have been sailing what they called ‘freedom of navigation’ operations near the bases, arguing they are necessary to keep the waterways open for all nations to use – much to the ire of Beijing.
Australia acquiring nuclear submarines – which can sail much further than traditional subs and conceal themselves easier – will potentially allow the country to join such missions or else covertly spy on what China is doing, which is why the pact has so infuriated Beijing.
The backlash marks a new low in relations between Australia and China – the country’s largest trading partner – which were already at rock-bottom following calls from Canberra for a probe into Covid’s origins.
China reacted by cutting off all diplomatic contact with Australia and has since engaged in a trade war, whacking tariffs on Australian goods that are thought to have cost the country $2.6billion annually.
But the war of words could now spiral into all-out conflict with China’s Global Times news website – a mouthpiece for the communist government – warning of the possibility of a nuclear strike on Australia.
The article cited an anonymous ‘senior Chinese military expert’ who said Australia would pose a nuclear threat to other countries because the new submarines could potentially be fitted with nuclear weapons provided by the US or UK.
‘This would make Australia a potential target for a nuclear strike, because nuclear-armed states like China and Russia are directly facing the threat from Australia’s nuclear submarines which serve US strategic demands,’ the expert said.
‘Beijing and Moscow won’t treat Canberra as ”an innocent non-nuclear power,” but ‘a US ally which could be armed with nuclear weapons anytime,’ the expert added.
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Peter Dutton insisted that the aim of the new defence pact is to ensure peace in the region, but that the risk of fighting with China ‘shouldn’t be discounted’ and was ‘up to the Chinese’+7
Why is Australia getting the subs?
Why nuclear submarines?
Scott Morrison meeting with Boris Johnson and Joe Biden at the G7 summit in Cornwall back in June, where the trio put pen to paper on a new military alliance that will give Australia its first nuclear-powered submarines Boris Johnson hails new security deal with US and Australia
Nuclear submarines are powered by nuclear reactors which produce heat that creates high-pressured steam to spin turbines and power the boat’s propeller. They can run for about 20 years before needing to refuel, meaning food supplies are the only limit on time at sea.
The boats are also very quiet, making it harder for enemies to detect them and can travel at top speed – about 40kmh – for longer than diesel-powered subs.
The first nuclear submarines were put to sea by the United States in the 1950s. They are now also in use by Russia, France, the United Kingdom, China, and India. A senior US defence official told reporters in Washington DC: ‘This will give Australia the capability for their submarines to basically deploy for a longer period, they’re quieter, they’re much more capable. ‘They will allow us to sustain and to improve deterrence across the Indo-Pacific.’
Zack Cooper, a senior fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, said nuclear submarines would hugely boost Australia’s military capability. They are going to be much, much more capable in the large, expansive ocean that is Australia has to deal with,’ he told the ABC.
Will Australia have nuclear weapons?
Scott Morrison made it clear that the nuclear-power submarines will not have nuclear missiles on board. Australia has never produced nuclear weapons and signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1973 which prevents non-nuclear states which don’t already have them from developing nuclear weapons.
Mr Morrison also said the Australia has no plans to build nuclear power stations which are widely used around the world. ‘But let me be clear, Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability,’ he said. ‘And we will continue to meet all our nuclear non-proliferation obligations.’ ADVERTISEMENT
The article warned Mr Morrison’s ambition to beef up Australia’s military ‘could bring destructive consequences’ in the event of a nuclear war and said his insistence that Australia does not want nuclear missiles is ‘meaningless’.
China is believed to have between 250 and 350 nuclear weapons, compared to American’s arsenal of 5,800 and Russia’s total of 6,375.
In July satellite photos emerged which appeared to show China building a huge missile silo base in the desert town of Hami, northern Xinjiang province
Researchers believe the site could expand to 110 silos, which can be filled an intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads.
China’s DF-31 nuclear missile can travel up to 11,200km at 8km per second, reaching the US or Australia in less than half an hour.
In January China shared video of it testing a DF-26 or Dongfeng-26 missile, a medium-to-long-range non-nuclear missile said to be able to reach Guam, a US territory about 3,200 miles from the Chinese coast.
Only eight countries have nuclear weapons: The US, UK, France, China, India, Russia, Pakistan and North Korea.
Australia has no experience with nuclear weapons or energy and Mr Morrison said he has no intentions to change that.
Prime Minister Morrison had been working in secret for nearly two years with a group of advisors to secure a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, allowing Australia to push back against an increasingly assertive China.
The plan is thought to have been hatched as early as August 2019, with Mr Morrison asking a team of scientists, Navy top brass, engineers and other experts to look again at a deal Australia had signed with France to buy 12 diesel-powered subs and to see whether better options existed.
Ultimately, the task force concluded that going nuclear – an option that Australia has long-resisted due to the lack of a domestic nuclear industry and a commitment to nuclear non-proliferation – would be preferable to paying France $90billion for its vessels, after the cost ballooned from the $50billion first agreed upon.
Just a few years earlier in 2016 when former PM Malcolm Turnbull signed off on the deal for France to build a dozen attack-class subs, the notion of going nuclear was not on Australia’s radar.
But two key factors changed in that short time which would leave Australia desperate to torpedo the French deal.
Australia in the past was resistant to building a nuclear-powered fleet as it would have required civil nuclear power capability onshore, but advances in military technology available via a deal with the US and UK mean that is no longer an issue.
At the same time an increasingly belligerent and hostile China motivated Mr Morrison to plan and set up the historic AUKUS military alliance which will see Australia get its hands on up to eight nuclear-powered submarines.
The Prime Minister’s vision first began when he attended the G7 Summit in the quaint French coastal community of Biarritz in August, 2019.+7
China has transformed several uninhabited islands in the South China Sea into military bases and has begun warning ships away from them, including threatening rival naval vessels+7
China has been rapidly expanding its military in recent years and has become increasingly bullish with its neighbours, leading to fears that it could start trying to seize territory