Washington: Peter Dutton says “outbursts” and “propaganda” from China about Australia’s development of nuclear-powered submarines will not deter the country from deepening defence ties with America, as the Defence Minister announced a significant expansion of the US military presence in Australia.
Dutton said he expects to see an increase in the number of US troops rotating through northern Australia, as well as an increase in bilateral military exercises and possibly new US military bases in Australia.
Dutton and Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with their US counterparts in Washington for the annual Australia-US Ministerial (AUSMIN) consultations a day after the launch of the landmark AUKUS security partnership between the US, UK and Australia.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed that the Biden administration’s decision to share America’s closely guarded submarine secrets with Australia did not come with any expectation of favours in return.
Beijing lashed out at the submarine pact, saying it “gravely undermines regional peace and stability, aggravates the arms race and hurts the international non-proliferation efforts”.
Speaking at the US State Department, Dutton said: “This is not the first time that we have seen different outbursts from China in terms of Australia’s positioning.
“We are a proud democracy in our region, we stand with our neighbours in the Indo-Pacific to ensure enduring peace and this collaboration makes it a safer region.
“That’s the reality. No amount of propaganda can dismiss the facts.”
Dutton said the Morrison government sees “incredible uncertainty” in the Indo-Pacific, more that at any time since the end of WWII.
“We do believe it’s in Australia’s national security interests to deepen our relationship with the United States and other partners including the Quad [India, Japan, the US and Australia],” Dutton said.
Dutton said the government was following military advice that conventional diesel-powered submarines would not provide Australia the undersea capabilities it needs in the 2030s and beyond.
Commenting on plans to expand the US military presence in Australia, Dutton said: “I do have an aspiration to make sure that we can increase the numbers of [American] troops through the rotations.
“The air capability will be enhanced, our maritime capability enhanced and certainly the force posture enhanced. If that includes basing and the storage of different ordnances [military supplies]. I think that is in Australia’s best interests and in our national interests.”
The US currently rotates around 2,500 marines through the Northern Territory each year under an agreement reached between Julia Gillard and Barack Obama in 2011.
Dutton also said there would be “greater air co-operation” with the US, including through “rotation deployments of all types of military aircraft to Australia”.
Defence Secretary Austin said the prospect of increasing the number of US troops in Australia was a “pretty exciting opportunity for us”.
“Today we endorsed major force posture initiatives that will expand our access and presence in Australia,” Austin said.
Asked whether the US expects anything from Australia in return for sharing its submarine technology, Austin said: “We certainly didn’t go into this with a ‘quid pro quo’ mindset, and we’re not outlining any specific reciprocal requirements.”
Austin said the decision reflects the fact that “Australia has been with us through thick and thin on a number of different challenges” over many years.
Secretary of State Blinken agreed, saying there were “no follow-on reciprocal requirements of any kind”.
Any future requests to position US troops and weapons in the Top End would be “sovereign decisions for Australia”, Blinken said.
He stressed that the US would not tolerate Chinese economic coercion of allies such as Australia.
“Beijing has seen over the past few months that Australia will not back down, and the threats of economic retaliation and pressure will simply not work,” Blinken said.
“The United States will not leave Australia alone on the field – or better yet, on the pitch.”
Payne said that Australia believes “United States leadership in the Indo-Pacific remains indispensable”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will visit Washington next week for meetings with US President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.Internet Explorer Channel Network