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Australians reject siding with Japan over China: survey
by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) Jan 06, 2015


Australia yet to decide on submarine fleet plan: ministry
Sydney (AFP) Jan 06, 2015 - Australia is in talks with Japan and others on the design and production of its new submarines, the defence department said Tuesday, but did not confirm reports the two nations would jointly build the fleet.

Australia is seeking to replace its fleet of diesel and electric-powered submarines that date from the 1990s, but has not yet said if it will build the vessels locally or buy them off-the-shelf from an international supplier.

Under the proposal reported Monday, Japan's defence ministry would cooperate with Australia in developing special steel and other materials for its new submarines, while Tokyo will be in charge of assembling them, the Mainichi Shimbun said.

The joint work would be meant to assuage concerns that the domestic ship-building industry would be fatally hurt if Australia chose to buy Soryu-class submarines off-the-shelf from Japan instead of constructing them in the country with Japanese technology.

While the Mainichi Shimbun report said Australia had taken "a positive stance" on the proposal, with a deal possibly sealed by the end of this year, Australia said "no decisions have yet been made".

"Work is progressing to explore options for a conventionally powered Future Submarine, and Australia is discussing issues relating to submarines with a number of countries, including Japan," a defence department spokeswoman said in a statement.

"No decisions have yet been made on the design and build of the next generation of Australian submarines.

"The government's decisions will be based on reliable data evaluated against the navy's requirements."

Buying the submarines off-the-shelf from the East-Asian nation would cost Australia about Aus$25 billion (US$20.3 billion), compared with Aus$50 to Aus$80 billion if they were built at home, a local report last September said.

But unions have expressed concerns that such an international arrangement would not just hurt Australian shipbuilders but also have a ripple effect on associated industries.

Australians would overwhelmingly reject siding with close ally Japan against top trade partner China over a dispute in the East China Sea and prefer to remain neutral, according to a survey published Tuesday.

Beijing and Tokyo have been engaged in a long and bitter battle over ownership of a contested island chain, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.

Australia has a long-standing military alliance with Japan's close ally the United States, which could arguably see it drawn into the dispute.

But a poll commissioned by the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology, Sydney, suggested that 71 percent of Australians would prefer to remain neutral should a conflict arise.

"The poll confirms Australians overwhelmingly want their country to stay neutral," said former foreign minister Bob Carr, director of the institute, an independent research think-tank.

Asked what Australia should do if armed conflict broke out between Japan, the United States and China over the islands, only 15 percent said they supported backing a Japan-US alliance.

Four percent said Australia should back China and nine percent were unsure, the poll of more than 1,000 Australians found.

Should the US president call and ask the Australian prime minister to join in supporting Japan, 68 percent said Australia should declare itself neutral and not make a military contribution.

Fourteen percent said Canberra should join its allies in war while 17 percent were unsure.

Carr said as far as the public was concerned, Australia was not obliged under the Australia-New Zealand-United States (ANZUS) treaty to make a commitment.

The treaty binds Australia, New Zealand and the United States to cooperate on defence matters.

"We know that Australians overwhelmingly support the ANZUS treaty but this poll confirms they do not want it invoked in conflict between China and Japan over the islands in the East China Sea," he said.

Australia and Japan have recently moved to strengthen military and economic ties, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has described Canberra as Tokyo's "best friend".

But China is Australia's biggest trading partner, with the two-way flow exceeding Aus$150 billion (US$122 billion).

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