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Australia seeks ‘more proactive’ role in Indo-Pacific

Australian submarine HMAS Rankin (Hull 6). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman James R. Evans)
November 16, 2021

Australia’s participation in the new AUKUS security partnership is part of a broader increased focus on defense, the country’s ambassador to America said Tuesday.

Ambassador Arthur Sinodinos said Australia is increasing its defense spending to 2.5 percent of GDP to be prepared to play a greater role in security in the Indo-Pacific amid a growing threat from China.

“We want to be more proactive in shaping the environment in our region, because we’ve picked up on the fact that our strategic circumstances have changed and that the challenge for us in the region today is not to sit back and be the passive recipient of whatever may be happening,” Sinodinos said at a Hudson Institute event.

In September, Australia announced its AUKUS partnership with the United States and United Kingdom, along with a deal under which its partners will help the country acquire its first nuclear-powered submarines. Australia simultaneously cancelled a pending $90 billion deal to get conventional subs from French shipbuilding company Naval Group, causing a rift with the French government.

Preliminary work has begun to get Australia its submarines, though it’s expected to take years for the boats to enter service. Sinodinos said each of the three countries are standing up “working groups” to draft specific agreements under the partnership, and the submarines are the first priority.

Officials are amid an 18-month consultation period to iron out details, but Sinodinos said Australia is hoping to complete the process faster. Some questions being considered are workforce, education, and technical requirements in Australia; nuclear stewardship requirements; and what existing design to use for the submarines, which will be built in south Australia, Sinodinos said.

“It’s like a Lego, putting this together,” he said. “We’ve got people coming into the embassy to help with this work here in Washington. The White House [and] the Pentagon are staffing up as well. The U.K. is doing the same thing, so watch this space.”

But he also stressed that AUKUS is intended to boost Australia’s capability in the region beyond just submarines. Sinodinos said the three countries are examining how to work together on cybersecurity initiatives.

“You work trilaterally because there are strengths each brings to the table,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of small- and medium-sized companies in the cyber sector now. Some of them are coming up with quite interesting innovations….What we’re looking to do is to bring those to the table and say, how do they add to the sum knowledge of what’s possible?”


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