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SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will meet his Fiji counterpart in Suva on Wednesday to press Canberra’s message that its $245 billion nuclear powered submarine programme does not violate its nuclear non-proliferation commitments.

Australia is party to a nuclear-free zone treaty with 12 other South Pacific nations, including Fiji, in a region where sensitivity over nuclear weapons is high because of the effects of nuclear weapons tests by the United States and France.

Albanese will meet with Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka on Wednesday to discuss regional security, a day after unveiling details of the AUKUS submarine programme in San Diego with the leaders of United States and Britain.

Australia will buy three U.S. Virginia-class submarines early next decade, before shifting to production of a new AUKUS submarine based on a British design from 2040.

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British and U.S. nuclear-powered submarines will be deployed in Australia from 2027.

China has said AUKUS violates a nuclear non-proliferation treaty, a claim Australia has rejected.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong said China’s diplomats will attend a briefing by her department in Canberra on Wednesday on the AUKUS programme, along with diplomats from other nations.

“We’re always happy to be very transparent about our plans,” she told ABC radio.

Australia emphasised on Tuesday the submarines will not carry nuclear weapons.

Australia’s defence officials have said the nuclear submarine fleet is needed as a deterrent to China’s naval build up.

“One of the issues that we face within our region is that we are witnessing the largest conventional military build-up that the world has seen since the end of the Second World Wa,” Defence Minister Richard Marles told ABC TV on Wednesday. “It’s not Australia who is doing that.”

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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