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Home » The relationship between China and Australia has slowed down. Is the Orcus nuclear submarine still necessary?

The relationship between China and Australia has slowed down. Is the Orcus nuclear submarine still necessary?

by Kayden Collins
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US President Biden, British Prime Minister Sunak and Australian Prime Minister Albanese will gather at the US Naval Base in California on March 13 to discuss Australia’s purchase of nuclear submarines. This is the summit within the framework of the Orcus military alliance concluded not long ago by the above three countries. The purpose of Orcus and nuclear submarines, according to the three countries, is to guard against China’s military expansion and threats. However, Australia’s recent bilateral relations with China have eased, and there are doubts whether the above-mentioned strategy is still necessary.

According to a Washington Post report today, China and Australia have begun to ease relations. Will AUKUS use torpedoes against China?

Australia’s lobster, seafood is ready to ship. The coal piled up in Australian ports can finally be cleared for transshipment. Three years after China imposed a severe trade crackdown on Australia, the two countries are starting to ease. Their leaders met in November for the first time in five years. Senior officials have resumed regular dialogue. Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell is expected to travel to Beijing soon.

Australian wine merchants said optimistically on TV, “In almost every area where we have trade obstacles or disputes, progress seems to be making progress.” 

But even as Australian and Chinese business owners begin to dream of returning to the thriving trade of a decade ago, the reconciliation faces obstacles at sea. U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to meet with Australian Prime Minister Albanese and British Prime Minister Sunak in San Diego on Monday to finalize further details on plans to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines under the trilateral AUKUS security agreement. Orcus’ release follows a year and a half of top-secret discussions between the three countries.

Australia will buy up to five of the United States’ most advanced Virginia-class attack submarines, which experts say will cost about $3 billion each and are expected to be delivered as early as 2032. The final model will be British designed but will incorporate extensive American technology.

The Washington Post said China would not be happy. “AUKUS is coming, and Beijing will be unwelcome no matter what happens,” said Michael Fulilove, executive director of the Lowy Institute think tank in Sydney. “This will put some limits on the extent of Australia-China rapprochement,” he said.

Biden has made no secret that he sees China as America’s biggest competitor. From computer chips to Pacific diplomacy, the U.S. government has continued a Trump-era hawkish stance and sought to push back against Beijing’s growing global influence. More importantly, Biden said that if China invaded Taiwan, the United States would intervene, thereby avoiding the strategic ambiguity policy that the United States has long adopted towards Taiwan.

But the situation is different in Australia, where Albanese is walking a tightrope on foreign policy: advancing the AUKUS agreement, deepening his country’s reliance on the US military for decades to come, while trying to unfreeze the frosty Australia-China relationship he inherited last year. On one side is Australia’s greatest ally; on the other, Australia’s largest trading partner.

For two decades, starting in the late 1990s, China’s rise was welcomed in Australia with little question, according to the report.

However, the journey in Australia-China relations has been bumpier in 2017 amid allegations of Chinese espionage and political interference. Australia has become the first country to ban Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei after passing foreign interference laws.

In early 2020, Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison drew the ire of Beijing by calling for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. China slapped heavy tariffs on Australian barley, and soon Australia’s coal, beef, wine and lobster also faced severe restrictions. Later that year, Beijing released a list of 14 “grievances” it wanted Australia to address before normal relations resumed.

When Morrison announced AUKUS in September 2021, alongside Biden and then-UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, it reflected Australia’s growing bipartisan concerns about the long-term future of Asia, particularly China, Fullilove said. In response, Australia wants to boost its capabilities and double down on its alliance with the US. He said. “For Beijing, however, these are two very unwelcome signals.”

Rory Medcalf, dean of the Australian National University’s National Security College, said becoming the seventh country to acquire a nuclear-powered submarine would be a historic decision for a “middle power” like Australia. He believes this shows that “Australia lives in a much more dangerous strategic environment than it was a decade ago”. He likened the development to Sweden and Finland joining NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Albanese’s centre-left Labor Party was elected in May on a pledge to advance Australia while avoiding Morrison’s inflammatory anti-China language. Albanese and his foreign minister, Penny Wong, have largely succeeded.

Experts said, “China is now becoming more friendly to Australia. It really makes Australia’s situation more awkward. Especially in AUKUS, it is very embarrassing.”

But Medcalf, dean of the Australian National University’s National Security College, said, “No matter what is announced tomorrow Monday, China should not be shocked. The timetable was set when AUKUS was announced 18 months ago. As for whether this announcement will undermine The bilateral relationship with China, that should be a choice for China.”


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