Australia's defence minister insists there is no commitment to go to war alongside the United States in return for nuclear submarines he says will protect vital trade shipping routes.
Under a landmark military arrangement with the United States and United Kingdom, Australia will command a fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines within the next three decades.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the up to $368 billion deal alongside US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in San Diego.
But the announcement sparked an angry reaction from China who accused Australia of going down a "path of error and danger".
Former prime ministers Paul Keating and Malcolm Turnbull also criticised the deal and questioned how Australia would maintain sovereignty within it.
But Defence Minister Richard Marles said such commentators were "plain wrong" and insisted there was no "quid pro quo" to join in military action with the United States.
"I couldn't be more unequivocal than that ... in all that we do, we maintain complete sovereignty for Australia," he told ABC Insiders.
"The moment that there is a flag on the first of those Virginia-class submarines in the early 2030s is the moment that submarine will be under the complete control of the Australian government of the day."
Mr Marles said while the submarines could operate in a potential conflict, the main intent was for them to contribute to regional stability and protect trade routes through the South China Sea.
"A lot of our trade goes to China, but all of our trade to Japan (and) to South Korea - two of our top five trading partners - goes through the South China Sea," he said.
"The maintenance of the rules-based order as we understand it, freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight is completely in Australia's interest and we need to make sure that we have a capability which can back up that interest."
Trade Minister Don Farrell, who met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Wentao in February, said he was hopeful discussions to improve Australia's trade relations with Beijing wouldn't be affected by the AUKUS announcement.
"Everything is pointing in the right direction for stabilisation of the relationship and I'd be very confident that process will continue," Senator Farrell told Sky News on Sunday.
"We want a stable relationship with China, we want a mature relationship with China.
"At the same time we want to make sure that everything we do is in our national interest and dealing with the issues of our national security."
Senator Farrell remained confident the current $20 billion in trade sanctions imposed by China in 2020 could still be resolved.
But opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie said it was important to be realistic following the Chinese government's comments about the AUKUS arrangement.
"I don't think the relationship is at its best at the moment. I think AUKUS is going to make it difficult for (the government) to get back into a place where they want to go (with China)," he said.
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