SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia has “absolutely” not vowed to support the U.S. in a conflict over Taiwan in return for U.S. Virginia-class submarines, Australia’s Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Sunday.

Australia, the U.S. and Britain this week unveiled the multi-decade AUKUS project in which Australia will buy the U.S. military submarines before joint British and Australian production and operation of a new submarine class, SSN-AUKUS.

Australia’s centre-left Labor government believes the A$368 billion ($244.06 billion) deal is necessary given Chinese military buildup in the region, which it has labelled the largest since World War Two.

Asked on ABC television if, in return for access to the U.S. military submarines, Australia had given the U.S. any commitment to help during a conflict over Taiwan, Marles said: “Of course not, and nor was one sought”.

China views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, which Taiwan disputes.

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Queried on if there was a “quid pro quo” owed to the U.S. flowing from the submarines deal, Marles said: “Absolutely not”.

Under the AUKUS deal, which Asian allies had welcomed but which Beijing has criticized as an act of nuclear proliferation, the U.S. intends to sell Australia three of the U.S. Virginia class subs, built by General Dynamics, in the early 2030s, with an option for Australia to buy two more.

Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said the programme would start with a A$6 billion investment over the next four years to expand a submarine base and the country’s submarine shipyards, as well as train skilled workers.

Australia is also set to provide A$3 billion to expand U.S. and British shipbuilding capacity, with the bulk of the money to speed up production of U.S. Virginia-class submarines.

(Reporting by Sam McKeith; Editing by Josie Kao)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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