SYDNEY — Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles on Thursday told Parliament that the controversial AUKUS submarine deal with the U.S. and the U.K. enhances Australian sovereignty and does not increase dependence on the United States as claimed by critics. The pact was signed by Australia, the United States and Britain in September 2021 but has been condemned by China.
Marles said that receiving at least eight nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS pact will “dramatically enhance” Australia’s sovereignty, rather than erode it.
Marles argued that Australia needed British and American expertise to enhance its military capabilities.
China accused Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States of fueling military confrontation when the AUKUS accord was signed in 2021.
The alliance has been criticized by former Australian Prime Ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Paul Keating, who have said the deal would erode the country’s sovereignty.
Turnbull told local media last week that the government had to determine whether the submarines could be “operated, sustained and maintained by Australia without the support or supervision of the U.S. Navy.”
Jordon Steele-John, a Greens party senator, has also criticized the accord. He told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. On Thursday that it makes Australia increasingly dependent on the U.S. and Britain.
“Either of those two nations could decide they no longer wish to participate in such a project or pact, leaving our capacity literarily dead in the water,” he said. “The Australian community is very rightly concerned about the greater integration and inter-reliance that this will create.”
Specific details of the trilateral accord will be released soon. British politicians have reportedly suggested that the AUKUS project should be expanded to include India and Japan.
In response, China’s foreign ministry said it was “seriously concerned and opposed” to the military pact. Beijing has previously accused Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States of fueling military confrontation when the AUKUS accord was signed in 2021.
Australia has been trying to rebuild its fractured relationship with China in recent months. Analysts say it is a delicate enterprise, given the tensions over trade and other geopolitical issues.
On Thursday, Australia said it would be removing hundreds of Chinese-made security cameras at official buildings across Australia.
Marles conceded there was a potential security problem that needed to be addressed. There is no evidence so far of any breaches of national security, but Marles said the devices would be taken down.
Britain and America have done the same thing because of concerns the equipment could contain spyware.