(Update: China’s foreign ministry overnight called the AUKUS plan “a blatant act that constitutes serious nuclear proliferation risks, undermines international non-proliferation system, fuels arms races, and hurts peace and stability in the region.”)
(CNSNews.com) – The U.S., Britain, and Australia have unveiled a multi-decade plan designed to boost Western security in the Asia Pacific at a time of growing Chinese power, by enabling Australia to buy nuclear-powered submarines from the U.S., and eventually build its own.
President Biden met with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and their military chiefs in San Diego on Monday for talks on the next steps for the AUKUS security partnership, first announced in the fall of 2021.
The initiative was from the outset panned by China, and its ally Russia, both of which have accused the U.S. and U.K. of encouraging proliferation by offering nuclear propulsion technology to Australia. The U.S. has only once before shared the technology with another country – Britain, more than six decades ago.
(The submarines in question are nuclear-powered, but not nuclear-armed.)
The plan announced on Monday comprises three main phases:
--U.S. and British nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs) will step up port visits to Australia, and Australian military and civilian personnel will embed with the U.S. Navy and Royal Navy and submarine industrial bases in the U.S. and Britain to accelerate training.
--The second phase, in the early 2030s, will see Australia buy three Virginia-class SSNs from the U.S., with potentially two more if needed.
--Phase three will entail Britain and Australia, using shared technology, building new submarines (the SSN-AUKUS). The Royal Navy will get its first boats by the late 2030s and the Australian Navy by the early 2040s.
“The United States has played a historic role over decades in the Indo-Pacific to help ensure peace and stability, to ensure that there would not be the repeat of major-power conflict that we saw in decades past,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on Monday.
“Continuing to invest in these kinds of capabilities over the coming decades will help us continue to play that role alongside key allies and partners that we have played for the last several decades.”
Although Sullivan added that the AUKUS plan was “not directed at any one country,” China’s military expansion and ambitions are self-evidently a key factor behind the initiative.
(In his comments on Monday, Biden said – without referring directly to China – that “AUKUS has one overriding objective: to enhance stability in the Indo-Pacific amid rapidly shifting global dynamics.”)
A senior administration official briefing on background rejected the notion that the move was part of an effort to “contain” China but did point to Chinese actions in the region that the U.S. and allies want to counter.
“We’ve seen stepped up activities and provocations in the South China Sea and around Taiwan; more joint activities, naval, air exercises with Russia in the Pacific; challenges to India along its border; wolf warrior diplomacy; economic warfare,” the official said.
“Remember, Australia has been the subject of virtually undeclared economic and commercial boycott now for almost five years.”
“So, 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 ten years,” the official said.
“I would reject the idea that what allies and partners, all of whom who have been committed to working constructively with China where possible, are taking steps that are somehow designed to contain China. This is an attempt to defend and secure the operating system of the Indo-Pacific. I think it is responsible and clear.”
Sullivan said on Monday that over the 18 months since AUKUS was first announced, “we have directly engaged with China to explain to them what AUKUS is and what it is not.”
“We are specifically briefing them about this [Monday’s] announcement so that they understand the terms of this,” he added.
Last week Chinese President Xi Jinping in unusually blunt remarks accused the U.S. of a campaign of “containment and suppression” of China.
In the light of that comment, asked in San Diego if he worries that Xi may view the AUKUS project as aggression, Biden replied simply, “no.”
Since the initial announcement in 2021, China has accused the U.S., Britain and Australia of reviving a “Cold War mentality” in the Pacific.
Then Foreign Minister – now the CCP’s top foreign affairs official – Wang Yi said AUKUS aimed at “provoking rivalry among blocs in the region and ushering in geopolitical zero-sum games.”