Q&A: Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines and ASEAN’s reaction

by | Mar 16, 2023 | World

Australia has made its single greatest investment in military capability since World War II, signing a deal with the United States to buy three Virginia class nuclear-powered attack submarines over the next decade and two more vessels if required.Described as Australian history’s “single biggest leap” in military modernisation, the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines will see Canberra join just six other countries in the world that have such weapons in their inventories.
Agreed under the AUKUS defence pact with the US and the United Kingdom, Australia’s desire to have submarines powered by nuclear propulsion technology has been inspired by one country: China.
China’s meteoric rise as an economic power and, increasingly, as a military titan in the Asia-Pacific region has caused deep concern in Canberra, London and Washington.
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Beijing immediately denounced the deal as revealing the “Cold War mentality” of the three AUKUS members, which would “hurt regional peace and stability”.
Several countries in Southeast Asia – where Beijing has laid claim to almost the entire South China Sea – have expressed concern over the impact of the deal.
Malaysia this week said it appreciated the need for countries to enhance their defence capabilities and stressed “the importance of all parties within and beyond this security partnership to fully respect and comply with” existing laws relating to the operation of nuclear-powered submarines in regional waters.
To understand how Southeast Asian nations might respond to the move, Al Jazeera spoke to Carlyle A Thayer, an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy.
A Southeast Asia specialist and Vietnam expert, Thayer says some nations might be secretly relieved at the agreement, given China’s increasingly assertive approach to its maritime claims.

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