Nuclear subs pact angers Beijing

World | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 17 Sep 2021

The United States announced a new alliance with Australia and Britain to strengthen military capabilities in the face of a rising China, with Canberra to get a nuclear submarine fleet and American cruise missiles.

President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his British counterpart Boris Johnson did not mention China in unveiling their alliance, dubbed AUKUS - but their intent was clear, and their announcement prompted fury in Beijing.

China condemned the deal as an extremely irresponsible threat to stability in the region.

The agreement also angered France, which had been negotiating a A$90 billion (HK$512 billion) sale of conventional submarines to Australia.

"This initiative is about making sure that each of us has a modern capability - the most modern capabilities we need - to maneuver and defend against rapidly evolving threats," Biden said in Washington.

Morrison said the three nations all respected "freedom" and "the rule of law," and that the alliance would help ensure security in the region.

The Western allies often reference the rule of law and freedoms when railing against China's military buildup in the South China Sea.

The first major initiative announced under the new alliance was the fleet of eight state-of-the-art, nuclear-powered submarines for Australia.

The submarines, said Biden and the other leaders, will not be nuclear-armed, only powered with nuclear reactors.

But they will allow Australia's military to travel and strike targets far from its coast.

Morrison later announced Australia would also acquire long-range US Tomahawk cruise missiles.

With China building up its own navy and repeatedly testing decades of US military dominance across Asia, the creation of AUKUS, with its focus on submarines, is "meant to send a message of reassurance and a determination to maintain a strong deterrent stance," a US official said.

China has in recent years hit Australia with trade sanctions and snubbed diplomatic talks.

Morrison yesterday offered an "open invitation" to Chinese President Xi Jinping for talks.

China, however, swiftly condemned the agreement, with foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian saying it "seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race."

He said the Western allies should "abandon their outdated Cold War zero-sum thinking" or risk "shooting themselves in the foot."

France's foreign minister was enraged, branding the agreement "a stab in the back."

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