A new plan by the US, UK, and Australia to provide Canberra with nuclear-powered submarines undermines regional stability and intensifies the arms race, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has said.
US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Australian PM Scott Morrison announced the AUKUS initiative during a joint virtual event late on Wednesday. The three countries said they would begin an 18-month-long consultation, with the eventual goal of using American technologies to equip Australia with a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, armed with conventional weapons.
The AUKUS pact between Washington, London, and Canberra is “extremely irresponsible,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said during a media-briefing on Thursday. The plan to arm Australia with nuclear-powered submarines “seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race,” he added.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington insisted that countries “shouldn’t build exclusionary blocs targeting or harming the interests of third parties,” while also advising the US, UK, and Australia to “shake off their Cold-War mentality and ideological prejudice.”
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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whom Biden referred to as “that fella Down Under” during the joint event, later celebrated the submarine pact, insisting that it will provide “the desired substantial capability enhancement that Australia has needed” and help the country “build regional resilience.”
The PM said that Beijing shouldn’t treat AUKUS as a provocative move. “It is not an uncommon thing for countries to take decisions in their own strategic interests and build up their defense capabilities,” he pointed out, adding that “China makes the same decisions, as do other countries within our region.”
Morrison also expressed his eagerness to settle differences between Canberra and Beijing at the negotiating table. “There’s an open invitation for [Chinese President Xi Jinping] to discuss these and many other matters. That has always been there,” he said.
None of the three leaders directly mentioned China during the presentation, with Biden only saying that the trilateral pact was needed to maintain a “free and open Indo-Pacific” in view of the “current strategic environment” in the region. But Washington has long been concerned with growing Beijing’s influence in the Indo-Pacific, its territorial claims in the South China Sea, and growing tensions with Taiwan.
Another country affected by AUKUS is France, which has lost a hefty $66 billion deal to produce a dozen diesel-electric submarines for Australia as a result. Paris described the move by Canberra as “regrettable,” saying it contradicts “the letter and the spirit” of cooperation between the two nations.
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However, Morrison said that he still considered France “an incredibly important partner in the Pacific.” He expressed confidence that the Australian decision to exit the diesel-electric submarine contract will be “ultimately… understood” by Paris. “France would do the same” for its national interests, he added.
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