(Update: changes headline, lede, adds China’s reaction, edits throughout)
Washington/Beijing, Mar 14 (EFE).- China on Tuesday accused the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia of undermining global peace and stability, a day after the trio unveiled a plan to acquire and develop nuclear-powered submarines.
The submarine deal is part of the AUKUS trilateral security pact, signed in September 2021 to counter Beijing’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific.
“We urge the US, the UK and Australia to heed the call from regional countries and the rest of the world, discard Cold War mentality, put aside geopolitical calculations, honor international obligations, and avoid undermining regional and global peace and stability,” Chinese foreign affairs ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a press conference.
At a ceremony in San Diego on Monday, the president of the US, Joe Biden, and the prime ministers of the United Kingdom and Australia, Rishi Sunak and Anthony Albanese, unveiled the details of the “interoperable” submarines in the first concrete move of the AUKUS (Australia/United Kingdom/United States) alliance.
“The United States has safeguarded stability in the Indo-Pacific for decades to the enormous benefits of nations throughout the region,” said Biden, who claimed the US as a “Pacific power” with authority to defend, among other things, freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific.
Under the agreement, Australia will purchase up to three Virginia-class single-jet submarines from the US during the early 2030s, with the option to purchase two more.
For the first time in 65 years, Biden said, the US will share the technology at the heart of its nuclear-powered submarines with another country, allowing Australia to build its own.
The multi-phase submarine development project will use UK submarine technology and design with American technology that will culminate in the Australian production and will be named SSN-AUKUS.
“I want to reiterate again: The SSN-AUKUS will not have nuclear weapons,” Biden said.
Britain will have the SSN-AUKUS submarines ready by the end of the 2030s, while Australia will finish manufacturing them in the 2040s, according to a joint statement from the three leaders.
Sunak said the aim is to build “truly interoperable” submarines between the three Navies.
“For the first time ever, it will mean three fleets of submarines working together across both the Atlantic and Pacific, keeping our oceans free, open, and prosperous for decades to come,” he said.
Albanese said that the AUKUS agreement would open “new frontiers” for the three countries with new technological innovations and the desire to guarantee a “peaceful and a prosperous future.”
“The AUKUS agreement we confirm here in San Diego represents the biggest single investment in Australia’s defense capability in all of our history, strengthening Australia’s national security and stability in our region; building a future made in Australia with record investments in skills, jobs, and infrastructure; and delivering a superior defense capability into the future,” the prime minister said.
The Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines are powered by a nuclear reactor, which allows them to operate at higher speeds and spend more time underwater than conventional diesel-powered submarines.
Speaking in Canberra on Tuesday, Australia’s defense minister Richard Marles said the agreement would not contravene international treaties against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, amid criticism both domestically and from Beijing.
“A precondition of the whole program with AUKUS is to be making sure that everything we are doing is compliant with non-proliferation treaty obligations, and we are really confident that we are setting the highest bar in relation to our NPT obligations and we’ve been working closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency in respect of this,” Marles said.
In a statement, nuclear analyst for the Australian Conservation Foundation Dave Sweeney said the deal “raises serious non-proliferation concerns relating to access to highly enriched weapons-grade uranium and sets a disturbing precedent for imitation and escalation,” adding that the agreement would “undoubtedly elevate regional tensions and increase risks for Australians and our neighbors.”
The Chinese mission to the United Nations, meanwhile, said the submarine deal was a “blatant act” that threatens nuclear non-proliferation agreements, “fuels arms races, and hurts peace and stability in the region.” EFE