Despite the French president referring to the project as a "confrontation with China," Australia's prime leader said Friday that he was still committed to constructing a fleet of submarines fueled by American nuclear technology, AP reported.
Infuriating President Emmanuel Macron last year was the former Australian government's decision to forego a 90 billion Australian dollar ($66 billion) contract for a fleet of conventionally powered submarines from France in favour of nuclear-powered models in a deal that was secretly negotiated with the US and UK.
Since he was elected prime minister in May, Anthony Albanese has adhered to the so-called AUKUS agreement to embrace nuclear technology. Australia's choice of either a British Astute-class submarine or a Virginia-class submarine will be made public in March.
"We are proceeding with the AUKUS arrangements, there's nothing ambiguous about it," Albanese told reporters at a Bangkok summit that Macron is also attending.
On Thursday, Macron criticised the AUKUS agreement, telling reporters that France had provided Australia, a country without a nuclear energy industry, with independently maintainable diesel-electric submarines.
"It was not in a confrontation with China because these were not nuclear-powered submarines," Macron said through an interpreter.Macron said that Albanese's predecessor, Scott Morrison, made the "the opposite decision: to engage into a confrontation by going nuclear."
China's foreign ministry criticised the export of American nuclear technology when the AUKUS contract was revealed in September of last year, calling it "extremely reckless." Some of Australia's neighbours worry that it might trigger a regional arms race.
Albanese responded when asked if Australia was provoking a nuclear exchange with China: "President Macron is entitled to put forward his views, as he does in a very forthright way.
"He's entitled to make whatever comments he wants as the leader of France," Albanese added.When the leaders met on Thursday night in Bangkok, Albanese hinted there was no animosity between them by stating, "We had a very amicable discussion, as we always do."
After the sale for a dozen submarines was cancelled last year, Macron accused Morrison of lying to him about it and forbade the Australian leader from calling for several weeks.
On Thursday, Macron stated that the possibility of France providing Australia with submarines was still "on the table."
Australia and France are still talking about "how we can collaborate in defence," according to Albanese.
Given that the first of Australia's eight nuclear submarines won't arrive until 2040 and that the Collins-class conventional submarines are nearing the end of their useful lives, the country may be left with a capability gap.
There have been rumours that France would give Australia a small temporary fleet of diesel-electric submarines.
In order to make up for breaching the submarine contract, Albanese's newly elected administration decided in June to compensate French builders Naval Group 555 million euros ($584 million).
Officials from the Australian Defense Department stated at the time that the compensation was generous in an effort to calm French resentment and strengthen security ties between the two South Pacific nations.
Albanese claimed that during his initial bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday, AUKUS was not discussed.