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Thursday, February 25, 2016, 10:11

Australia to boost defence spending by US$21 billion

By Reuters

Australia to boost defence spending by US$21 billion
HMAS Success, a Durance-class multi-product replenishment oiler serving in the Royal Australian Navy is seen moored at Garden Island naval base in Sydney on Feb 25, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Peter PARKS)

SYDNEY - Australia will increase defence spending by nearly A$30 billion (US$21.57 billion) over the next 10 years, seeking to protect its interests as the United States and its allies grapple with China's rise in the Asia-Pacific region.

Defence spending will rise to A$195 billion, or 2 percent of GDP, by 2021-2022, as Australia buys new equipment including frigates, armoured personnel carriers, strike fighter jets and submarines, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told an armed forces audience in Canberra on Thursday.

The defence strategic plan was designed in mind of the changing nature of regional security, particularly China's economic and military rise and an increased US focus on the Asia-Pacific, Turnbull said.

"The United States will remain the pre-eminent global military power over the next two decades," Turnbull said."It will continue to be Australia's most important strategic partner through our long-standing alliance, and the active presence of the United States will continue to underpin the stability of our region."

Tensions between China and its neighbors Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan over sovereignty in the South China Sea have risen after China embarked on significant reclaimations on disputed islands and reefs in the area.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than US$5 trillion in global trade passes every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.

Defence Minister Marise Payne said Australia welcomed China's economic rise and noted it would seek greater influence in the region.

"As a major power, it will be important for regional stability that China provides reassurance to its neighbours by being more transparent about its defence policies," Payne said.

"The Government will seek to deepen and broaden our important defence relationship with China while recognising that our strategic interests may differ in relation to some regional and global security issues."

Australia has urged China and claimants to refrain from island-building and militarization in the South China Sea in an effort to lower tensions.

In addition to detailing the number of new submarines, Payne said Australia would commit to a continuous shipbuilding program starting with nine frigates and 12 offshore patrol vessels.

The supplier of the submarines will determined later this year.

Reuters reported earlier this month the competition for the A$50 billion (US$36 billion)contract to build Australia's next submarine fleet is narrowing to a race between Japan and France.

The size of the Australian military will increase to 62,400, the plan said, the highest since 1993.

Australia will also purchase unmanned drones for the first time, improving its ability to protect maritime sovereignty and borders and provide support to troops.

Cyber security investment will be boosted, Australia said, while also committing A$1.6 billion to funding projects to develop new weapons and technology.

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