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US, UK, Australia defense chiefs to meet on AUKUS subs deal

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will meet his Australian and British counterparts in California’s Silicon Valley on Friday to discuss cooperation on nuclear-powered submarines and other advanced technologies aimed at countering China’s growing military might. Australia will buy at least three nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarines during the 2030s under the tripartite agreement known as AUKUS, after which Canberra and London will build a new model involving US technology — plans that have sparked anger in Beijing. Austin, Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles and British Defense Secretary Grant Shapps “will provide significant updates on the Australia-United Kingdom-United States Security Partnership (AUKUS)” after they meet, the Pentagon said. China has condemned the agreement, warning earlier this year that the three countries were treading a “path of error and danger” after they unveiled the deal for Canberra to purchase the submarines. Australia had previously been on track to replace its aging fleet of diesel-powered submarines with a $66 billion package of French vessels, also conventionally powered. The abrupt announcement by Canberra that it was backing out of that deal and entering the AUKUS project sparked a brief but unusually furious row between all three countries and their close ally France. Compared with the Collins-class submarines due to be retired by Australia, the Virginia-class is almost twice as long and carries 132 crew members, not 48. Acquiring submarines powered by nuclear reactors will put Australia in an elite club and at the forefront of US-led efforts to push back against Chinese military expansion. While the submarines will be nuclear-powered, they will not be armed with atomic weapons and are instead expected to carry long-range cruise missiles. While the AUKUS deal has upset China, fraught relations between Beijing and Washington have improved in recent weeks, with President Joe Biden meeting his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in California last month — their first in a year. Both men pledged to reduce tensions and agreed to resume high-level military talks, which China severed after then-US House speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in 2022. Taiwan is a major flashpoint between the two countries, with Washington arming Taipei while Beijing considers the self-ruled island its territory and has vowed to seize it one day, by force if necessary.

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