Submarines Down Under
Is the Australia–Japan Sub Deal Dead?

A month after reports that Australia was nearing an agreement to buy submarines from Japan, the Japan Times says the deal is basically dead:

Canberra has all but eliminated the much-hyped Japanese bid to build the country’s 50 billion Australian dollar fleet of new submarines, a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. said Wednesday.

The Cabinet’s National Security Committee reportedly discussed the bids by France, Germany and Japan on Tuesday evening, moving closer to a decision that is expected by the end of the month.

While a final decision has not been made, the ABC report said that reservations among officials had likely sunk any potential Japanese deal to build 12 Soryu-class submarines that would replace the Royal Australian Navy’s aging Collins-class fleet.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference Wednesday that Tokyo was aware of the media report.

“Details of when it will decide is up to the Australian government and the Japanese government is not in a position to comment at his point,” Suga said.

Australia has been looking to purchase new submarines for years, and rumor had it Japan was the preferred manufacturer. But that was during the tenure of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who had a close relationship with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. After Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull succeeded Abbott in an intra-party coup, the whole arrangement was thrown up in the air. Then, it looked like Japan was back in the running after Japan’s ambassador in Canberra said it would be possible to build the subs on Australian soil, addressing the concerns of Australian labor unions.

If the deal really is no longer in the cards, it’s tempting to score one for Beijing, which has been trying to keep Japan and Australia apart. But it’s not clear that this news indicates a setback for Tokyo-Canberra relations: a Japanese submarine entered Australian waters for the first time since World War Two, part of landmark bilateral exercises conducted this month. Sub deal or no, Australia and Japan still seem keen on working together to confront China.

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