Australia in 'very awkward position' over $368 billion move to counteract China

Canberra has faced many questions over its landmark AUKUS deal, with one leading expert now delivering a damning assessment.

A leading defence expert says Australia is in "grave danger" of its landmark $368 billion nuclear submarine deal completely failing, leaving the country in a difficult position as China attempts to gain further control in the Indo-Pacific.

Australia's AUKUS deal alongside the US and the UK has faced plenty of scrutiny since it was announced last year, and Hugh White has criticised the decision to tie Australia to allies in what he believes is a "very awkward position".

"I think the kind of desire for the glamour of nuclear-powered submarines has got in the way of people making a sober decision about the best way to maximise our military capability in what are very difficult strategic circumstances in the decades ahead," White, Emeritus Professor of Strategic Studies at ANU, told ABC News Breakfast.

Hugh White believes Australia should never have committed to the ambitious AUKUS deal. Source: ABC
Hugh White believes Australia should never have committed to the ambitious AUKUS deal. Source: ABC

He believes Australia should have instead decided to go alone and invest in the less-risky conventionally-powered submarine.

"A conventionally-powered submarine would do what we need to do, we can get a lot more of them, we can get them faster. We can get a big fleet in the next 20 years rather than the next 40 or 50, and we'll do it with a lot less risk the whole project goes sideways," White said.

He believes the lengthy, "terrifically complex" timeline of the nuclear subs, with the first pencilled in for 2038, means Australia finds itself in a vulnerable spot, and says submarines need to be purchased earlier before then. "We should be trying to maximise our capacity to defend ourselves independently in a more contested region," he said.

New Zealand eyeing role in AUKUS pact

Earlier this month it was reported New Zealand, which had distanced itself from conversations of war in the region under former prime minister Jacinda Ardern, was close to joining AUKUS. China's threat in the region was arguably the main reason the Morrison government joined AUKUS, with Beijing voicing their concerns over the group. Foreign Minister Penny Wong has been far more calculated than the Coalition with her rhetoric regarding military conflict.

With China continuing to pressure Taiwan in its goal to reunify the democratic island with the mainland, the US has suggested it would not sit back if Beijing decided to ramp up military force. While some experts fear a strategic move against Taiwan is imminent, Wen-Ti Sung, sessional lecturer in Taiwan Studies at the Australian National University, previously told Yahoo News Australia the mere announcement of the AUKUS deal was food for thought for China and he believed a Chinese invasion would not happen anytime soon.

"Judging from Xi Jinping's address at China's National People's Congress, Beijing has shown no interest in launching military invasion of Taiwan during Xi's third term," he said.

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