Canberra is reportedly close to announcing a major submarine contract with Japan, the latest evidence that Australia may be getting more comfortable confronting Beijing. The Japan Times:
With Australia’s release of its defense white paper last week, the race to build the country’s next generation of submarines enters the home stretch — and some experts say the Japanese bid appears to hold an insurmountable lead.
“The DWP (Defense White Paper) strongly stresses the importance of further strengthening U.S.-Japanese defense relations and is also quite vocal about China’s challenge to the rules-based order in maritime Asia,” Ben Schreer, a professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, said.
“In my view, it’s highly likely that the Turnbull government will choose the Japanese design for strategic and technological reasons, and the DWP has added weight to this,” he said, referring to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
The white paper says the country’s submarine force will be increased from six to 12 “regionally superior submarines with a high degree of interoperability with the United States.”
We’ve been covering this story since last fall, when it briefly looked like the deal might fall through primarily because of labor union concerns but also, many analysts suspected, because Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull didn’t want to upset China. Then, Japanese officials said they were open to building the submarines in Australia, addressing the concerns of the Australian labor union. But the deal remained stalled—or at least uncertain, leading to further speculation that Canberra was really just looking for an opportunity to save face with Beijing.
At this point, the deal seems more consistent with Australia’s changing China policy: Australia has been more forceful in its condemnations of Beijing’s South China Sea activity, particularly since China deployed missiles and aircraft to its artificial islands.
The pattern we’ve seen over the past few years continues to play out: whenever China gets more aggressive, other regional powers respond by strengthening partnerships.