China’s communist government served up relatively mild criticism Thursday of the announced tripartite security pact between the United States, Australia and Britain.
President Biden unveiled the new alliance, dubbed “AUKUS,” for Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S., Wednesday at the White House. It includes joint development of eight nuclear-powered attack submarines for the Australian navy, which currently has none.
A Chinese Foreign ministry spokesman denounced the new alliance while Chinese state media suggested Canberra could become the target of a Chinese nuclear strike for joining with the United States and Britain in deploying nuclear-powered submarines.
The proposed alliance “has seriously undermined regional peace and stability, intensified the arms race and undermined international non-proliferation efforts,” ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing. Exporting sensitive nuclear submarine technology is part of a “geopolitical game” and “is extremely irresponsible,” Mr. Zhao said.
The Global Times, the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated newspaper, said the new arrangement “will potentially make Australia a target of a nuclear strike if a nuclear war breaks out.”
The newspaper quoted a Chinese military expert as saying nuclear-powered submarines are used to “launch a second-round nuclear strike in a nuclear war.”
The new security pact does not include nuclear arms for Australia. Instead, it involves creating an infrastructure and fuel for creating the nuclear power plants for submarines. Nuclear submarines are much more powerful than their diesel or electric counterparts. Nuclear propulsion allows for quieter operations — a key advantage in undersea warfare — and extended travel without having to come to the surface.
Nuclear submarines are also engaged in extensive intelligence-gathering and can be used to deploy special operations commandos.
No details of the type of submarines Australia will build although analysts say they likely will be variants of modern U.S. and British nuclear-powered fast attack submarines and could be deployed by the year 2040.
The Navy’s Virginia-class submarine fires both torpedoes and Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles. Britain’s Astute-class nuclear attack submarines also fire both torpedoes and cruise missiles. Virginia-class submarines also will be equipped with more advanced weapons in the future, such as lasers, and will be capable of launching undersea mines.
The security cooperation comes amid increasing regional clashes over China’s assertive military and sovereignty claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea, along with growing military tensions with Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of its territory and has vowed to retake by force if necessary someday.
Miles Yu, a former China policymaker at the State Department, said the new security arrangement is a significant step in confronting the China challenge in the region.
“The Chinese Communist Party is beginning to realize the real magnitude of its strategic miscalculations as the AUKUS deal is the first concrete action jointly taken by two NATO countries and two Asia-Pacific countries,” Mr. Yu said. “It’s the jointness of this act, and the nature of this deal that could obviate the PLA’s march beyond the First Island Chain that makes Beijing shiver.”
China has been expanding its influence and power in the western Pacific and is seeking to dominate the strategic waterways stretching from the South China Sea north to the Sea of Japan, an area China calls the “First Island Chain.”
Fury in France
The AUKUS grouping has also managed to anger other traditional U.S. allies, including European Union officials who said they were given no advance notice the pact was in the works.
The fury was particularly acute in Paris, where France will now lose out on a massive conventional, diesel-powered sub deal it had struck with Australia just five years ago.
The deal is “contrary to the letter and the spirit of the cooperation which prevailed between France and Australia, based on a relationship of political trust as on the development of an industrial and technological base of defense of very high level in Australia,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The new security cooperation is a major step in efforts by the Australian government to delink from China, which is Canberra’s biggest foreign market by far. In recent months, China has taken a series of retaliatory steps after the Australian government called for an international investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic that began in Wuhan.,
Extensive Chinese influence operations also were exposed in Australia over the past several years that led to new restrictions on Chinese investment and the resignation of an Australian member of parliament was covertly linked to the Chinese military.
China also has tried to punish Australia economically by blocking sales of Australian products in China like wine and seafood.
Senior Biden administration officials who briefed reporters on the new partnership said in addition to undersea warfare capabilities, the three militaries will work together on military-related artificial intelligence, quantum computing and cyber capabilities.
“This will be a sustained effort over many years to see how we can marry and merge some of our independent and individual capabilities into greater trilateral engagement as we go forward,” one of the officials said.
The only other time the United States has shared nuclear submarine technology took place with transfers of know-how to Britain nearly 70 years ago.
“This technology is extremely sensitive. This is, frankly, an exception to our policy in many respects,” the official said.
The three-way security partnership also appears to be aimed at counterbalancing Beijing’s bid to foster anti-U.S. alliances.
China has conducted military exercises with Russia and is a leader of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a China-led grouping of Central Asian nations that was holding its own 20th anniversary summit this week.
Mr. Zhao, the Chinese spokesman, said relevant states should “abandon the outdated Cold War zero-sum mentality and narrow-minded geopolitical perception, respect the will of the people of regional countries and do more to contribute to regional peace, stability and development.”
“Otherwise, they will only end up shooting themselves in the foot,” he said.
China uses the phrase Cold War mentality as code for anti-communism.