China has accused the UK, US and Australia of fuelling a new arms race after an agreement by the three powers to develop a new generation of nuclear-powered submarines.
China’s Foreign Ministry said the pact arose from a “typical Cold War mentality”, accusing the UK and US of violating the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in transferring weapons-grade enriched uranium to a non-nuclear weapons power.
At a daily briefing in Beijing, spokesman Wenbin Wang said: “The latest joint statement issued by the US, UK, and Australia shows that the three countries have gone further down the wrong and dangerous path for their own geopolitical self-interest, completely ignoring the concerns of the international community.”
It follows Monday’s summit in San Diego, California, where Rishi Sunak, US president Joe Biden and Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese set out details of the latest stage of the Aukus partnership.
Under the agreement intended to counter China’s increasing military assertiveness in the Pacific, Australia will get its first nuclear-powered submarines.
It will also provide the Royal Navy with replacements for its seven Astute submarines, potentially doubling the size of the fleet of its attack boats.
The vessels will not be nuclear-armed and the NPT allows the transfer of fissile material for non-weapons use, like naval propulsion, without the need for monitoring by the UN watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
However, in a series of tweets, the Chinese mission to the UN said the move clearly breached the “object and purpose” of the NPT.
“The nuclear submarine cooperation plan released today by Aukus is 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,” it said.
“Such a textbook case of double standard will damage the authority and effectiveness of the international non-proliferation system.
“We urge the trio to honour their obligations as members of the NPT and respond to the (will) of the international community.”
At a launch ceremony at a US naval base, Mr Sunak said the Aukus agreement was dedicated to keeping the oceans “free, open and prosperous” and “maintaining freedom, peace, and security now and for generations to come”.
The agreement is expected to create thousands of jobs at British shipyards, with the UK’s submarines mainly being built by BAE Systems at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, and Rolls-Royce, with the US sharing sensitive technology for the project.