China warned Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States on Tuesday that they were on a “path of error and danger” after announcing a deal for nuclear-powered submarines.
Australia announced on Monday that it would purchase up to five US nuclear-powered submarines before developing a new model with US and British technology as part of an ambitious plan to beef
US Vice President Joe Biden has stated that Australia, which joined the AUKUS alliance with Washington and London 18 months ago, will not receive nuclear weapons.
However, acquiring nuclear-powered submarines places Australia in an exclusive club and at the forefront of US-led efforts to counter Chinese military expansion.
“The latest joint statement from the US, UK, and Australia demonstrates that the three countries, for the sake of their own geopolitical interests, completely disregard the concerns of the international communities and are walking further and further down the path of error and danger,” said Wang Wenbin, China’s foreign ministry spokesman.
Wang accused the three Western allies of inciting an arms race, saying the security deal was “a typical case of Cold War mentality”.
Submarine sales “pose a significant risk of nuclear proliferation and violate the aims and objectives of the Non-Proliferation Treaty,” Wang said at a regular news conference in Beijing.
The announcement came on the same day that Biden hosted Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at a naval base in San Diego, California
With a US Virginia-class nuclear submarine moored behind the trio’s podium, Biden said the United States had “safeguarded stability in the Indo-Pacific for decades” and that the submarine alliance would bolster “the prospect of peace for decades to come”.
Albanese said the deal represents the biggest single investment in Australia’s defence capability “in all of our history”.
Long-range cruise missiles are expected to be installed on the submarines, providing a powerful deterrent.
Albanese predicted that the wider economic impact in the country would be comparable to the introduction of the automobile industry after World War II.
According to the Australian government, the multi-decade project will cost nearly $40 billion in the first ten years and create 20,000 jobs.
Albanese emphasised that Australia was now only the second country, after the United Kingdom, to have access to US naval nuclear secrets.
Three conventionally armed, nuclear-powered Virginia class vessels will be sold “over the course of the 2030s,” with the “possibility of going up to five if that is needed,” according to Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor.
Britain and Australia will then begin work on a new model, the SSN-AUKUS, which will also be nuclear-powered and carry conventional weapons. This will be a British design using US technology, with “significant investments in all three industrial bases,” according to Sullivan.
Defense spending is increasing.
While Australia has ruled out deploying nuclear weapons, its submarine plan represents a significant new stage in the conflict with China, which has built a sophisticated naval fleet and converted artificial islands in the Pacific into offshore bases.
In response to the Chinese challenge – and Russia’s attack on pro-Western Ukraine – Britain is beefing up its military capabilities, according to Sunak’s office on Monday.
Over the next two years, more than $6 billion in additional funding will “replenish and bolster vital ammunition stocks, modernise the UK’s nuclear enterprise, and fund the next phase of the AUKUS submarine programme,” according to Downing Street.
Australia had previously planned to replace its ageing fleet of diesel-powered submarines with a $66 billion package of conventionally powered French vessels.
Canberra’s abrupt announcement that it was withdrawing from the deal and joining the AUKUS project sparked a brief but unusually heated row between all three countries and their close ally France.
When compared to Australia’s Collins-class submarines, the Virginia-class is nearly twice as long and carries 132 crew members, not 48.
The longer-term upgrade, on the other hand, will necessitate a lengthy wait.
According to a senior US official, the British navy will receive “state-of-the-art” SSN-AUKUS vessels in the late 2030s, while Australia will receive them in the early 2040s.
Meanwhile, Australian sailors, engineers, and other personnel will train alongside their US and British counterparts to gain expertise, and British and US submarines will make regular visits to Australian ports.
China’s leader, Xi Jinping, made a fiery statement last week accusing the United States of leading a Western effort at “all-round containment, encirclement and suppression of China”.
But Washington says Beijing is alarming countries across the Asia-Pacific with its threats to invade the self-governing democracy of Taiwan.
“What we’ve seen is a series of provocative steps that China has undertaken under the leadership of Xi Jinping over the last five to 10 years,” the senior US official said.
“This is an attempt to defend and secure the operating system of the Indo-Pacific.”
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