Australian Nuclear Subs Are ‘Worst Deal in History,’ Ex-PM Says

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(Bloomberg) -- Ex-Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating condemned the center-left Labor government’s deal with the US and UK to obtain nuclear submarines, saying the nation’s military sovereignty was being surrendered to the “whim and caprice” of Washington.

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A former Labor party leader, Keating served as prime minister from 1991 to 1996, during which he sought to loosen Australia’s bonds with the UK — by calling for a republic — and deepen ties with Asia. The Aukus deal announced in San Diego Monday is the “worst international decision” by a Labor government since efforts to introduce conscription during World War I, he said.

Keating further took aim at the price of the program. “For the cost of A$360 billion we’re going to get eight submarines,” he told the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday. “That must be the worst deal in history.”

Under the agreement, Australia will purchase up to five US Virginia-class nuclear submarines with the first to arrive in the early 2030s, before beginning construction on a UK-designed model which will be ready in the early 2040s. The program is designed to counter Beijing’s military build up and its construction of bases on artificial islands and atolls in the South China Sea.

In a statement prior to his appearance, Keating said the deal “subsumed” Australia’s international interests to those of its allies, and would leave its security “suborned to the whim and caprice of a US administration.”

Australia has to try to find its security in Asia and improve ties with China, Keating argued. Instead, it’s turning back to London for security “230 years after we left Britain,” he said. “How deeply pathetic is that?”

Keating insisted that China isn’t a threat to Australia, nor to the US. However, when asked whether he would condemn human rights abuses by Beijing toward the minority Uighur population in Xinjiang, the former prime minister avoided answering the question.

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