TOKYO: Chinese state-run media said Wednesday that Australia’s choice of France to build its next-generation fleet of submarines avoided a “worst-case scenario” by not choosing Japan, but issued a warning to US ally Canberra not to upset the shifting security balance in the region.
The editorial, published on the website of the English-language Global Times, slammed the sub deal, which it said would “beef up the US strategic strength in the Western Pacific, negatively affecting China’s strategic security.”
On Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that Japan—the onetime frontrunner in the multibillion-dollar tender to build the subs—had lost out to France’s state-controlled naval contractor DCNS.
While China may be pleased that Japan was unsuccessful, “it was not overly concerned about the decision itself,” analyst Nick Bisley of Australia’s La Trobe University wrote in an online commentary. “Its concerns remain with what it perceives to be a regional order stacked against its interests.”
Indeed, China has cast a wary eye on the sub deal as strategic ties between the US, Japan and Australia continue to grow and as Washington seeks to offload some of the security burden for the Asia-Pacific region on to its allies there.
“Canberra needs to know that its submarine plan, be it independent or not, is part of the geopolitical game in the Asia-Pacific and will be used as a bargaining chip for the regional strategic wrestling,” the Global Times editorial said. It added that increased military pressure on China would ultimately run “counter to the national interests of Australia.”
Australia, one of Washington’s closest allies in the region, has joined the US in speaking out against China’s increasingly assertive moves in the disputed South China Sea. Beijing’s massive land-reclamation program has seen it create outposts in the waters – islands that the US and others fear could be militarized and used to cement its position there.
The US has conducted what it calls “freedom of navigation operations” near the disputed islands, much to the dismay of China.
Beijing has called such fears groundless, and accused Washington and Tokyo—which are not claimants to the South China Sea —of working to contain China.
In its editorial Tuesday, the Global Times urged US allies that are not party to the maritime row, including Australia, to refrain from “fanning the disputes from outside.”
In what appeared to be a veiled threat, the editorial also noted the “great importance” of Australia’s economic ties with China, its biggest trading partner, while also offering “more support to US military deployment . . . that targets China.”