Australia’s prime minister said on Friday he remained committed to building a fleet of submarines powered by US nuclear technology, although the French president called the plan a “clash with China”.
The former Australian government angered President Emmanuel Macron last year by canceling an A$90 billion ($66 billion) contract in a fleet of French-built submarines, opting instead for nuclear-powered versions in a signed agreement in secret with the United States and Great Britain. .
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been committed to the so-called Okus Accord for the adoption of nuclear technology since he took power in elections in May. Whether Australia chooses a version of the US Virginia-class submarine or the British Astute-class submarine will be announced in March.
“We are looking into the Ocos agreements, there is nothing mysterious in this,” Albanese told reporters at the Bangkok summit, which Macron is also attending.
On Thursday, Macron criticized the Okus deal, telling reporters France had offered Australia, which doesn’t have a nuclear industry, diesel-electric submarines that could be kept in independently.
“It wasn’t a confrontation with China because it wasn’t about nuclear-powered submarines,” Macron said through a translator.
Macron added that the prime minister, Scott Morrison, Albanese’s predecessor, had chosen “exactly the opposite: to engage in confrontation with nuclear weapons”.
When the Okus deal was announced in September last year, China’s foreign ministry condemned the export of US nuclear technology and called the move “totally irresponsible.” Some of Australia’s neighbors fear this could lead to an arms race in the region.
When asked if Australia was creating a nuclear confrontation with China, Albanese replied: “President Macron has the right to express his views, as he does in very frankly”.
Albanese added: “He has the right to make any comment he wants as France captain.”
Albanese specified that there were no bad feelings between the two leaders, saying: “We had a very cordial conversation, as we always do” when they met on Thursday evening in Bangkok.
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