SINGAPORE — Australia has thrown its support behind the Biden administration’s efforts to pursue dialogue with China’s leaders, calling it an important guardrail to maintain regional peace and avoid misunderstanding against a backdrop of strategic competition.
Speaking at the keynote address of a major security summit in Singapore, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also reiterated that the nation’s plan to acquire nuclear-powered submarines would contribute to regional stability and deterrence, not bring about conflict.
Albanese was speaking at the Shangri-la Dialogue, which runs June 2-4 in Singapore. The annual event is organized by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies; the think tank has a Singapore-based office as well.
Albanese cautioned in his speech that if events spiral out of control in the region — whether in the Taiwan Strait or elsewhere — it would be disastrous for the world.
“If you don’t have the pressure valve of dialogue, if you don’t have the capacity at the decision-making level to pick up the phone to seek some clarity or provide some context, then there is always the greater risk of assumptions spilling over into irretrievable action and reaction,” he said.
Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu has reportedly refused to meet his U.S. counterpart, Lloyd Austin, at this years summit, which is in its 20th iteration. This would be the latest in a series of Chinese rebuffs to American efforts to resume bilateral engagements, which stopped amid increased tension over Taiwan, among other factors related to strategic competition.
The U.S. sells arms to Taiwan, which China considers a rogue province and has threatened to take back by force.
Albanese also emphasized the importance of multilateralism and for all parties to work together to maintain regional peace. He cited Australia’s continued engagement with and support for various regional and multilateral groupings, including the Quad, made up of Australia, India, Japan and the United States; the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; the Pacific Islands Forum; and AUKUS, a security arrangement with Australia, the U.K. and the U.S.
“Peace is not a gift, and it’s never a given,” he said.
He also touched on Australia’s intention to acquire conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS partnership, reiterating that the “single biggest leap in Australian defense capability in our history” will allow the country to be a “stronger partner and more effective contributor to stability in our region.”
The planned acquisition of three American-made Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarines — before eventually transitioning to a new class of boats designed with its AUKUS partners but built in Australia — are the most significant among several planned Australia procurement efforts, including long-range cruise and anti-ship missiles.
However, Albanese sought to allay regional critics of the plans, emphasizing that Australia is fully committed to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the Treaty of Rarotonga. The latter formalizes a nuclear weapon-free zone in the South Pacific and bans the use, testing and possession of nuclear weapons within the borders of the area.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.