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Morrison insists AUKUS pact necessary to ensure regional security

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has again back AUKUS after a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of a UN meeting in New York.

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He insisted that security in the Indo-Pacific would be a major issue in coming years.

The partnership with the UK and US will allow Australia to acquire at least eight US nuclear submarines and has led to a diplomatic blow-up with France.

Australia is dumping its $90 billion submarine deal with France, although Morrison stressed Australia would honour its obligations with French shipbuilders as it exits the contract.

The AUKUS submarine deal is widely seen as an effort by the US, UK and Australia to counter an increasingly assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Morrison was speaking after a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of a United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York on Wednesday morning Australian time.

“The world is changing dramatically, particularly in our own region, in the Indo-Pacific,” the prime minister told reporters after the meeting.

“The Indo-Pacific will be a region that will challenge the world and will determine the future of so many all around the world.

“And together with the United States, we want to ensure that those in Europe and around the world can join us in focussing on addressing those challenges.”

Morrison said the Australian delegation in New York – which includes Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Peter Dutton – “took the opportunity” to walk “our European partners … through the important announcements we’ve made in Australia’s interest over the course of the past week”.

The European Union earlier this week demanded answers over the AUKUS announcement, following protests from France, and raised doubts over a pending free trade deal between the EU and Australia.

“It’s no easy thing to land a trade deal with Europe and there are many complex issues,” Morrison said.

“But I was very pleased with the discussions we had on that topic today.”

He said Australia had pointed out AUKUS was an opportunity to engage Europe, which is keen to play a bigger role in the Indo-Pacific, more broadly.

Payne stressed AUKUS was not a military alliance while Dutton said it would be a positive force for peace and stability in the region.

“Of course, there’s understandable recognition of the disappointment for France – there was never going to be an easy way not to proceed with this contract,” Morrison said.

“It’s our duty to ensure that if we require a superior capability, than one we would otherwise be provided with, then we will get on and do that job.

“It (the French ship) was a conventional submarine. It would only do so much. In this strategic environment, that was not enough.”

Morrison met with Mr Biden to mark the 70th anniversary this year of the ANZUS alliance between Australia, New Zealand and the US.

The leaders also recognised the challenges Biden raised in his speech to the UN assembly on ending COVID-19, addressing the climate crisis, defending democracy and shaping the rules of the road for the 21st century.

“Because I meant what I said: we are at an inflection point; things are changing,” Biden told Morrison.

“We either grasp the change and deal with it, or we’re going to be left behind – all of us.”

Morrison thanked Biden for his leadership.

“I want to thank you for your leadership and your focus on the Indo-Pacific region. There’s no doubt you get it,” he said.

-AAP

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