Canberra | China says Australia’s deal to buy US and British-designed nuclear-powered submarines, to be announced on Monday (Tuesday AEDT), is a “serious nuclear proliferation risk”.
In its first official response to details of the AUKUS security agreement that emerged on Thursday, China’s foreign ministry said the deal had been opposed by regional countries and the wider international community.
“This trilateral co-operation constitutes serious nuclear proliferation risks, undermines the international non-proliferation system, exacerbates arms race and hurts peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific,” a foreign ministry spokeswoman told a regular media briefing.
“We urge the US, the UK and Australia to abandon the Cold War mentality and zero-sum games, honour international obligations in good faith and do more things that are conducive to regional peace and stability.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will travel to San Diego for the AUKUS announcement on buying two types of nuclear submarines, alongside US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday (Tuesday AEDT).
Preparations will begin immediately for US submarines to be permanently deployed to Perth from 2027.
China has launched a series of diplomatic and legal challenges against AUKUS since the agreement was announced in September 2021.
Mr Albanese on Friday argued that Australia could boost its military might while also improving relations with Beijing.
He said it was not contradictory for Australia to invest in a fleet of the latest naval weaponry at the same time as building on its relationships with other countries in the Indo-Pacific.
“It’s a consistent position, we need to ensure that Australia’s defence assets are the best they can be,” he told reporters in New Delhi.
“At the same time, we need to build relationships. We’re doing that throughout the Indo-Pacific … we’ve improved our relationship with China in recent times as well.”
Peter Dean, co-author of Australia’s Defence Strategic Review, said nuclear submarines were a key area where the United States had an edge over China’s navy. It was vital that Australia had the same capability to deter China as it expanded its nuclear submarine fleet and ranges deeper into Australia’s northern waters.
“The No. 1 thing submarines do is hunt other submarines,” Dr Dean said. “We need to be able to track those submarines, and if it did come to a conflict with anyone, to respond appropriately. They are a really important part of our deterrence capability.”
Superior US technology
A US Defence Department report last year said the People’s Liberation Army Navy had a fighting force of 340 ships and submarines, including 12 nuclear submarines – six equipped with ballistic missiles – and 44 conventionally powered submarines.
But sheer numbers could be overcome with superior technology, analysts said.
“Chinese submarines are of less advanced technology and noisier than they should be, so more detectable,” said Bates Gill, executive director for the Asia Society’s Centre for China Analysis.
United States Studies Centre chief executive Michael Green, a former US National Security Council member who wrote a paper for the Pentagon seven years ago on undersea warfare, said PLA officials told him a decade ago that Beijing sought to control the waters around the Pacific’s “first island chain” of Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines – which all have treaties with the US – to create a buffer.
They also hoped to push US forces from the “second island chain” spanning the US territory of Guam to the Pacific islands, which count Australia as a traditional aid and security partner.
China’s failed effort last year to strike a 10-nation security and trade pact in the Pacific Islands renewed concern about Beijing’s naval ambitions, Professor Green said.
“They want to take the fight to our neighbourhoods so that we can’t concentrate our forces to deal with a contingency in the first island chain,” he said, referring to an attack on Taiwan.