Beijing/Washington/Canberra, Sep 16 (EFE).- China Thursday said the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia were “undermining regional peace” after the three countries unveiled a security partnership seen as a counter to Beijing’s expansionism in the Indo-Pacific region.
The trilateral pact, called AUKUS, seeks to strengthen cooperation in advanced defense technologies, including an 18-month plan to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.
President Joe Biden announced the pact in a virtual joint press conference with Prime Ministers Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson.
Though the three leaders did not mention China in their remarks, the agreement is widely seen as a challenge to Chinese expansionism and aggression in the disputed South China Sea.
The three highlighted regional and global security concerns, especially in the Indo-Pacific.
“We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and how it may evolve. The future of each of our nations — and indeed the world — depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead — ahead,” Biden said.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing that the defense pact “gravely undermines regional peace and stability, aggravates arms race and hurts the international non-proliferation efforts.”
He said the export of the sensitive nuclear-powered submarine technology to Australia showed the US and the UK “are using nuclear exports for geopolitical gaming tools and applying double standards which is extremely irresponsible.”
The spokesperson urged the three countries to “shake off their cold war mentality and do more to contribute to peace and stability.”
Zhao said the pact would trigger an arms race in the region and asked Australia to “honor its commitments” to nuclear non-proliferation.
The US president emphasized that the submarines for Australia would not be equipped with “nuclear weapons” but would be “conventionally armed” and yet powered by atomic reactors.
The pact triggered a row with France after Australia announced that it would scrap a 66 billion French submarine deal to build 12 nuclear-powered submarines.
“The pursuit of nuclear-powered submarine technology means that Australia will no longer proceed with the Attack class conventional submarine program with Naval Group,” Morrison said in a statement.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defense Minister Florence Parly slammed the decision in a joint statement, saying it “is contrary to the letter and spirit of the cooperation between France and Australia.”
The defense cooperation between the three countries comes against a backdrop of simmering tensions as the US focuses on maritime claims of Beijing in the South China Sea.
China has been accelerating its military and infrastructure development in the region.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei claim parts of the strategic sea, which serves as a passage for 30 percent of the global trade and is home to 12 percent of the worldwide fish resources, apart from housing oil and gas reserves.
Diplomatic and business relations between Australia and China have also deteriorated over the past couple of years.
China on Thursday blamed Australia for the slump in their ties.
“Mutual trust and respect are the precondition for dialog and cooperation. Difficulties in China-Australian relations have been caused solely by the Australian side. Australia has to think if it wants to see China as a partner or a threat,” the foreign ministry spokesperson said.