Australia will build eight nuclear-powered submarines under a new Indo-Pacific security partnership with the United States and Britain that analysts say will likely rile China, which will see the pact as an attempt to contain it.
Australia will be only the second country after Britain in 1958 to be given access to U.S. nuclear technology to build nuclear-powered submarines.
“Our world is becoming more complex, especially here in our region, the Indo-Pacific,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“To meet these challenges, to help deliver the security and stability our region needs, we must now take our partnership to a new level.”
In announcing the new security group on Wednesday, the leaders of the United States, Australia and Britain did not mention China, but Washington and its allies are seeking to push back against its growing power and influence, particularly its military buildup, pressure on Taiwan and deployments in the contested South China Sea.
China’s U.S. embassy said that countries “should not build exclusionary blocs targeting or harming the interests of third parties”.
“In particular, they should shake off their Cold-War mentality and ideological prejudice,” it said.
The trilateral pact, including access to U.S. nuclear submarine technology, will be seen in Beijing as a threat, said Asia Society Policy Institute senior fellow Richard Maude.
“China will see the suit of announcements today as further evidence of a strengthening coalition to balance its power. It will object, but its own assertive and uncompromising behaviour is driving these new alignments.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed the focus on the Indo-Pacific but said Australia’s new nuclear-powered submarines would not be allowed in its territorial waters under a long-standing nuclear free policy.
“I am pleased to see that the eye has been turned to our region from partners we work closely with. It’s a contested region and there is a role that others can play in taking an interest in our region,” Ardern said at a news conference.