Australia did not vow to help US defend Taiwan in submarine deal -minister

FILE PHOTO: France and Australia's Foreign and Defence ministers meet in Paris

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia "absolutely" did not promise to support the U.S. in any military conflict over Taiwan in return for a deal to acquire U.S. nuclear-powered attack submarines, Australia's Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Sunday.

Australia, the U.S. and Britain unveiled the multi-decade AUKUS project on Monday. Canberra is to buy the U.S. Virginia-class military submarines, with Britain and Australia eventually producing and operating a new submarine class, SSN-AUKUS.

Australia's centre-left Labor government says the A$368 billion ($246 billion) deal is necessary given China's military buildup in the region, which it has labelled the largest since World War Two.

Asked whether Australia had given the U.S. any commitment to help during a conflict over Taiwan in return for access to the submarines, Marles told ABC television: "Of course not, and nor was one sought".

He said there was "absolutely not" a quid pro quo obligation on Australia from the deal.

China views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory and has never renounced the option of force to take the island back. President Joe Biden has said the U.S. would defend Taiwan in the event of "an unprecedented attack" by China.

Under the AUKUS deal, which Asian allies welcomed but which Beijing has called an act of nuclear proliferation, the U.S. will sell Australia three subs, built by General Dynamics, in the early 2030s, with an option for Australia to buy two more.

Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell said on Sunday he was confident a scheduled visit to China to meet his counterpart Wang Wentao would go ahead, despite AUKUS. Farrell said last month the meeting was a signal that Australia-China relations were thawing.

He expressed hope for a visit to China by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese this year, according to a government transcript of his interview with Sky News.

The AUKUS programme is to start with a A$6 billion ($4 billion) investment over the next four years to expand a submarine base and the country's submarine shipyards and train skilled workers.

Australia is also set to provide A$3 billion to expand U.S. and British shipbuilding capacity, with most of that to speed up production of U.S. Virginia-class submarines.

($1 = 1.4937 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Sam McKeith; Editing by Josie Kao and William Mallard)