The U.S., Australia and the U.K. turned up the heat on China on Wednesday with a deal to share defense technology, starting with plans to help Australia build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.
President Biden was joined virtually by the prime ministers of Australia and the U.K to make the announcement.
A working group, known by the acronym AUKUS, will allow the three allies to share the latest technology in artificial intelligence, underwater systems and long-range strike capabilities.
Officials said nuclear-powered submarines would be quieter and more capable than Australia’s existing fleet, enhancing ‘deterrence’ across the far East.
‘We all recognize the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific for the long term,’ said Biden, using diplomatic speak for countering China’s ambitions.
None of the leaders mentioned China by name – and officials earlier played down the idea that the announcement was directed at any one country – but the U.S. and its Asian allies have expressed alarm at its territorial ambitions, military buildup in the South China Sea and growing economic might.
‘Our nations will update and enhance our shared ability to take on the threats in the 21st century, just as we did the 20th – together,’ said Biden.
Each of the leaders took pains to explain that the submarines would only carry conventional weapons.
President Biden unveiled a new security arrangement with Australia and the UK that he said would ensure ‘peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific for the long term’
Biden was joined for the announcement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the UK and Prime Minister Scott Morrison by videolink
The first project for the new defense tech sharing agreement will be to equip Australia with a nuclear-powered submarine fleet
‘These are conventionally armed submarines that are powered by nuclear reactors,’ said Biden.
‘This technology is proven. It’s safe.’
Until now, Washington has only ever shared its nuclear sub technology with London in an arrangement dating back to 1958.
‘This is a unique set of circumstances,’ said a senior administration official on an earlier briefing call with journalists.
Morrison said plans for the submarines will be developed in the next 18 months. They will be built in Adelaide, he added, but promised that Australia would not not be fielding nuclear weapons.
‘We will continue to meet all our nuclear non-proliferation obligations,’ he said.
The announcement is expected to scupper a $40 billion deal with France to replace Australia’s aging fleet of Collins class submarines.
Johnson said the agreement would make the world safer.
‘It is a momentous decision for any nation to acquire this formidable capability, and perhaps equally momentous for any other state to come to its aid,’ he said.
‘But Australia is one of our oldest friends, a kindred nation and a fellow democracy, and a natural partner in this great enterprise.’
Republican Sen. Bill Hagerty, a former ambassador to Japan, welcomed the announcement.
‘I’m pleased to see the Trump Administration’s efforts to strengthen cooperation with critical allies and counter our strategic adversary – communist China – continue with the current administration,’ he said.
Biden was joined by the leaders of Australia – Prime Minster Scott Morrison (l) – and Britain – Prime Minister Boris Johnson (r) – for the announcement
‘I urge the Biden administration to work with Britain and Australia to implement with a sense of urgency and accelerate relevant timelines.’
The new alliance will likely trigger concern in Beijing, which has reacted angrily every time Biden has reoriented U.S. foreign policy towards China.
Chinese leaders have expressed outrage at Biden administration officials condemning their human rights record in Xianjiang province and at criticism of their democracy crackdown in Hong Kong.
Their may be more to come next week when Biden will host his first in-person summit of leaders of the Quad nations — made up of Australia, India, Japan and the United States — which have been coordinating against China’s growing reach.
‘Hosting the leaders of the Quad demonstrates the Biden-Harris administration’s priority of engaging in the Indo-Pacific, including through new multilateral configurations to meet the challenges of the 21st century, said Press Secretary Jen Psaki as she announced the September 24 summit in a statement.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will attend.
She added the leaders will discuss COVID-19, the climate crisis, emerging technologies, and promoting a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific.’
Officials are increasingly concerned at the way China is laying claim to the South China Sea, ignoring other nations territorial claims.
Sen. Bill Hagerty, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it was vital to repair alliances after Biden’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal
China has inflamed tensions in the South China Sea in recent years by expanding its claimed territory, to the objection of its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific
US Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 flying F-35B Lightning II’s conduct routine operations aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth while she conducts a double replenishment with RFA Tidespring and HNLMS Evertsen in the South China Sea on 29 July, 2021
A Congressional report from earlier in July found China ‘gaining effective control’ of the region in recent years, concerning national security experts who see it as a threat to US interests (pictured: Chinese vessels moored in a disputed South China Sea territory on March 7)
‘That assertion treads on the sovereignty of states in the region. We continue to support the region’s coastal states in upholding their rights under international law,’ said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in July.
Under current international law Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Indonesia, China and Taiwan all claim a portion of the South China Sea.
A Congressional report from earlier in July found China ‘gaining effective control’ of the region in recent years, which is rich in oil and natural gas deposits, by increasing their military presence and building up artificial islands.
As a result, the US and allies make frequent ‘freedom of navigation’ voyages through international waters in the region, drawing angry rebukes from Beijing.
Last week the US Navy announced that the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group had entered the area for the first time during its current deployment.
‘The freedom of all nations to navigate in international waters is important, and especially vital in the South China Sea, where nearly a third of global maritime trade transits each year,’ said Rear Admiral Dan Martin, the group’s commander.
Beijing condemned the move when one ship in the group, the USS Benfold, sailed near the Spratly Islands, within 12 miles of a reef claimed by China.