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Japan hopes to turn tables on Australia submarine deal

SYDNEY -- Japan is making a last-ditch effort to win the contract to build Australia's next submarine fleet amid local reports that the country has effectively fallen out of the running.

     Australia "has all but eliminated the Japanese bid," the Australian Broadcasting Corp. has reported. Defense department officials apparently had reservations about building the fleet with Japan and feared Tokyo may be less enthusiastic than fellow bidders Germany and France.

     The Japanese design, based on the Soryu-class sub built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, was judged as the weakest by the National Security Committee, a news report Thursday by The Australian said.

     U.S. President Barack Obama assured Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that Australia's choice for the submarine deal would not impact the countries' alliance, dispelling earlier government concerns about selecting a European partner, the ABC reported.

     Australia plans to build 12 new submarines for its navy in partnership with Japan, Germany or France, deploying the first ship by the early 2030s. The deal is expected to be the country's largest defense contract on record, with design and construction alone totaling 50 billion Australian dollars ($38.6 billion). The decision likely will be announced by the end of April.

     "We will do our best," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters Thursday in response to the reports. The Japanese government is continuing to push for the deal through the Australian Embassy in Tokyo.

     "We have not heard anything from the Australian government," a Japanese Defense Ministry official said.

     Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force and Australia's navy and air force began joint exercises Wednesday off the coast of Sydney. Soryu-class submarine Hakuryu entered port to take part in the drills.

     "We fell behind in appealing to the locals," a Japanese official said. There also were concerns that Japan failed to sell its plan's benefits on employment, a hot topic in Australia. Mitsubishi Heavy had said earlier this year that it is prepared to produce the submarines in Australia.

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