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Australia Speeds Up Purchase of ‘Smart’ Sea Mines to Deter China

The Australian government is looking to speed up the purchase of a new generation of sea mines to protect its ports amid growing concern over China’s military build-up and expanding influence in the Pacific.

The Department of Defence said in a statement Monday the “smart” sea mines would be able to discriminate between military targets and other shipping vessels and be “a significant deterrent to potential aggressors.”

The news was first reported by Australia’s Nine newspapers on Monday, which said the cost could be as much as A$1 billion ($700 million) although the final total was still considered confidential. The department did not release information on the cost of the mines. 

Australia has sought to bolster its military forces in recent years to help counter China’s rapid military expansion in the region. In the past year, there were at least two reported incidents of confrontations between Australian and Chinese forces, including one just off Australia’s north coast.

At the same time, Beijing has broadened its diplomatic footprint in the Pacific, signing a security agreement with the Solomon Islands that could see Chinese warships docked just 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from the Australian mainland.

Australia is currently in negotiations with the US and the UK to acquire a fleet of nuclear submarines by 2040 as part of the wide-reaching AUKUS security partnership. An announcement on the design of the new vessels is expected within months.