Australia’s plan to buy a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines as part of its landmark security pact with the US and Britain has already angered two other countries – China and, less predictably, France.
The new alliance with the US and Britain, announced on Thursday, will include submarines built in Adelaide.
But it will also seal the scrapping of a controversial $90 billion subs deal with French naval builders that has been marred by years of delays and cost blowouts. A former French ambassador to the US described it as Paris having been “stabbed … in the back”.
The French government made its unhappiness official later on Thursday. In a joint statement, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defence Minister Florence Parly said Australia’s decision to halt the Future Submarine Program was “contrary to the letter and spirit of the co-operation that prevailed between France and Australia”.
“The American choice to exclude a European ally and partner such as France from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, whether in terms of our values or in terms of respect for multilateralism based on the rule of law, shows a lack of coherence that France can only note and regret,” they said.
Australia announced in 2016 that French company DCNS had beaten bidders from Japan and Germany to build the next generation of submarines in Australia’s largest-ever defence contract.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said plans for the nuclear-powered submarines would be developed over the next 18 months and the vessels would be built in Adelaide.
He said the Commonwealth would invest $6.4 billion to maintain and extend the life of the existing Collins Class fleet, supporting about 1300 jobs in South Australia.
The alliance, named AUKUS, was announced during a historic joint address by Mr Morrison, British PM Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden on Thursday morning (Australian time).
“Our world is becoming more complex, especially here in our region – the Indo-Pacific. This affects us all,” Mr Morrison said, joining the two other leaders in a video address from Canberra.
China is yet to respond officially to the announcement. But its embassy in Washington was quick to say countries should “shake off their Cold-War mentality and ideological prejudice”.
Chinese embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu said countries “should not build exclusionary blocs targeting or harming the interests of third parties”.
“In particular, they should shake off their Cold-War mentality and ideological prejudice,” he said.
Elsewhere, South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said the announcement the nuclear-powered subs would be built in Adelaide would provide defence industry jobs in South Australia “today, tomorrow and for decades to come”.
Mr Marshall said the decision to also maintain and upgrade the current Collins Class fleet in SA had cemented Adelaide as the nation’s shipbuilding capital.
The federal government will also invest up to $5.1 billion in upgrades to the Hobart Class destroyer combat management systems, creating a further 300 jobs in Adelaide.
“There are going to be jobs for today, jobs for tomorrow, and jobs for decades to come thanks to today’s announcements,” Mr Marshall said.
“These new submarines will be significantly bigger and more advanced, and today’s decision recognises the quality of naval shipbuilding in South Australia and our strong relationship with the federal government.”
SA Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said the decision had left jobs and investment under a cloud with the state facing years of delays.
“The Attack Class submarines were announced in 2016 and building works were originally supposed to begin in the mid-2020s,” Mr Malinauskas said.
“This means we have wasted at least five years, with the prospect of several more years of delays to come.
“The future submarines project was a shining light on the hill for our state. Now that has all been thrown into grave uncertainty.”
Mr Malinauskas said the federal government must answer key questions, including how many jobs the new deal would deliver, how many nuclear subs would be built and when work would begin.