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The deal could postpone the spending of an estimated $40 billion to build 12 new submarines proposed by the Australian Government.
Australia’s Future Submarine project was discussed during the Australia-Japan Conference in Tokyo this month.
Presenter: Joanna McCarthy
Speaker: Alan Dupont, security specialist, University of NSW
DUPONT: Well it’s not a question of whether Australia wants it, Australia is looking to replace an existing fleet of Collins-class submarines and Japan is one of the options. And it could be an off-the-shelf Japanese design which is a Soryu class submarine, this is an advanced conventional submarine which the Japanese have only actually added to their fleet in the last three or four years, or it could be just some components of the system the Japanese use which might be compatible with our own requirements. So there are two options there and the Japanese Soryu class submarine of course would be considered along with other potential candidates, such as a German submarine which is comparable with lesser range, or in building the Collins-class follow-on submarines within Australia indigenously. So they’re the kind of options on the table for the government.
MCCARTHY: So the deal is far from done although it does have some high profile advocates in Tokyo. How likely do you think that it will go ahead?
DUPONT: Look I’d have to say at the moment it’s probably no better than a one in three chance of going ahead for two reasons; one is because it’s not clear yet what kind of submarine Australia’s going to end up with, and I suspect that will be dependent on the next government, which is as you are well aware there’s an election in six months. The other problem with the Japanese option is the constraints on the export of defence technology by the Japanese government. So this has prevented them from exporting submarines in the past and essentially all defence related technology they produce. However these constraints are actually being loosened and it appears the door is now open for potential cooperation with Australia on a range of defence technologies, including the submarine. But at the moment it’s still a little unclear as to where this is going to take us.
MCCARTHY: And assuming Japan does ease this ban that it’s had on defence technology, what’s in it for them?
DUPONT: Well there’s a lot in it for Japan. First of all they need to be world’s best practice in their defence sector too, and they can’t do it just confining themselves to their own capabilities, so cooperation with other partners with leading edge defence technologies is essential for the development for Japan’s own defence industry. Second, this has become much more important for Japan now as geo-political tensions are ratcheting up in north-east Asia, and particularly with China. So the Japanese are very concerned now about making sure that they can have the best technology possible for the development of their own defence force. So that means that they’re going to have to cooperate with friends and allies. Now previously Japan has had a pretty close relationship with the United States and has been able to export some of its own technology to the United States and receive some in return. But I think Japan is looking for other partners that it can do with and this is where Australia comes into the picture, because we are a leading edge country in many of these sectors as well, and there would be some benefits for Japan in building cooperation with Australia through the defence sector.
MCCARTHY: So it’s fair to say then that Japan sees strategic value in this kind of relationship with Australia, rather than it simply Australia being the only country lining up and asking to buy these subs?
DUPONT: Absolutely, you have to see it in the context of a broader more ambitious relationship between Japan and Australia which transcends the old trade relationship.
MCCARTHY: And if Japan’s motive here is about building strategic alliances to try and counter the growing might of China, what’s that going to mean for Australia’s relationship with China, how will they view these closer military ties between Canberra and Tokyo?
DUPONT: Yes well look there are some obvious sensitivities around all this, so even if it was technically feasible and politically feasible for Australia and Japan to do this in terms of their own domestic audiences, obviously both countries have to give consideration to the likely regional response, particularly that of China. But not only China, because other countries too might be a bit nervous about the implications. So I think all of this is doable and manageable, but there would have to be a considered political strategy, a narrative around this which would basically reduce and lessen any potential tensions with other countries, especially China.
Source – Radio Australia