Australia’s nuclear submarines welcome to dock in Singapore

PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. (Sept. 29, 2018) The crew of USS Indiana (SSN 789) salute after brining the ship to life during the commissioning ceremony. Indiana is the U.S. Navy's 16th Virginia-class fast-attack submarine and the third ship named for the State of Indiana. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Leah Stiles/Released)

AUSTRALIA’S future fleet of nuclear submarines will be welcome to dock in Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (pic) said, as differences over how to handle China’s burgeoning military footprint dominated the early stages of a special Asean summit in Melbourne.

Lee, at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese yesterday, said South-East Asian nations have different positions on Beijing’s stance in the South China Sea due to individual security perspectives.

He added that a code of conduct on the potential flashpoint – the negotiations for which have dragged on for two decades – is still in the works.

Lee thanked Australia for its close security relationship with Singapore, adding that “when the Australian new submarines are ready, we welcome them to visit Changi Naval Base in due course.”

The number of Chinese maritime militia vessels around key features across the South China Sea grew by 35% last year as Beijing continued to bolster its presence, according to data released by the Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative last week.

Singapore is an outlier among Australia’s near neighbours in Asean in its early acceptance of Canberra’s plan to deploy nuclear-powered submarines.

Indonesia and Malaysia were initially critical of the September 2021 agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom and United States, known as Aukus, fearing it represented a further militarisation of the region and increased proliferation risks.

Lee’s comments on the South China Sea come as members of Asean expressed contrasting views on how to handle Beijing during the summit. Both Vietnam and the Philippines repeatedly denounce the presence of Chinese ships in areas of the disputed waters they claim as their own.

In a speech to the Lowy Institute on Monday, Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr repeated his pledge to not yield “even a square inch” of territory in the South China Sea.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong opened the conference with a call to ensure free and open shipping lanes in the important waterway.

“What happens in the South China Sea, in the Taiwan Strait, in the Mekong subregion, across the Indo-Pacific, affects us all,” she said.

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