Australia’s nuclear-powered submarine deal supported by the new AUKUS alliance has been described by a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson as an undesirable program for regional countries that will ‘impair international nuclear non-proliferation efforts’.
Spokesperson Zhao Lijian made his remarks from China’s Embassy in Australia on Thursday, declaring that the submarine program would undermine ‘peace and stability’ in the Asia-Pacific region. He also implied that Australia’s focus in the region should be to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control, and on revitalising economic capacity to lift growth and employment in the Asia-Pacific, rather than bolstering strategic military capabilities.
“Australia is now introducing nuclear submarine technology of strategic and military value,” Lijian said.
“The international community, including Australia’s neighbouring countries, has reason to question Australia’s sincerity in honouring its nuclear non-proliferation commitments.”
Beijing’s criticism of the ambitious nuclear-powered vessel procurement deal, which saw Australia scratch its existing submarine-building contract with France, is a stark contrast to the message being promoted by Australian prime minister Scott Morrison during his current overseas trip to the USA and other remarks from Will Nankervis, Australia’s ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc (ASEAN) .
“In a rapidly changing strategic environment, Australia’s participation in AUKUS will strengthen our ability to work with regional partners in support of regional stability and security, within the rules-based framework on which our collective prosperity is built,” Nankervis said in a statement issued before Beijing’s criticism last week.
“Australia is also committed to upholding our obligations under the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, as we have since we acceded in 2005, and to working with ASEAN and its member states to advance peace and prosperity in our region.
“We do this so that we can all grow and prosper in an open, stable and inclusive region, with ASEAN at its centre,” he said.
But Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lijian predicted that the submarine program, informed by what he described as a ‘Cold War zero-sum mentality’ and ‘narrow geopolitical perspective’, would do the opposite. He declared that it was a widely held view among the international community that the submarine cooperation of the AUKUS alliance posed ‘a serious risk of nuclear proliferation and violates the spirit of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)’.
Lijian then went on to suggest that the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were insufficient to guarantee Australia would not use highly enriched uranium in the power reactors of nuclear submarines for the purpose of nuclear weapons.
“China believes that these concerns of the international community are completely justified and reasonable.”
“The nuclear submarine cooperation between the US, the UK and Australia, which poses a serious risk of nuclear proliferation, proves once again that the US and the UK pursue double standards and use nuclear cooperation as a tool of geopolitical game,” Lijian said.
In his statement last Tuesday, Ambassador Nankervis clarified that the trilateral partnership announced by Scott Morrison, together with the news that Australia would build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, was not a defence alliance or pact. He also reassured ASEAN members that Australia continued to staunchly support the UN treaty on the Non-Proliferation (NTP) of Nuclear Weapons and would continue to comply with all NTP obligations as a non-nuclear weapon state.
Nankervis went on to explain that Australia’s naval capabilities were essential given it was a ‘three-ocean nation’ and relied on seaborne international trade.
“While these submarines will be nuclear powered, they will not carry nuclear weapons.
“Australia does not and will not seek such weapons. Nor do we seek to establish a civil nuclear capability,” Nankervis said.
“We remain committed to reinforcing international confidence in the integrity of the international non-proliferation regime, and to upholding our global leadership in this domain,” the ambassador added.