US President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that the United States is forming a new Indo-Pacific security alliance with Britain and Australia that will allow for greater sharing of defense capabilities — including helping equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. It’s a move that could deepen a growing chasm in U. S.-China relations. Biden made the announcement alongside British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who joined him by video to unveil the new alliance, which will be called AUKUS.
The three announced they would quickly turn their attention to developing nuclear-powered submarines for Australia. “We all recognise the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term,” said Biden, who said the new alliance reflects a broader trend of key European partners playing a role in the Indo-Pacific. “We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and how it may evolve.” In a press briefing on Thursday, Morrison defended the decision and said he understands it’s disappointing for France. Touting a “forever partnership” with the US and UK, he said it would take as many as 18 months to work out details of the agreement before work on the subs begins in Australia. Building and commissioning such nuclear-powered submarines can take years, or even decades. “As a prime minister I must make decisions that are in Australia’s national security,” Morrison said. “I know that France would do the same.” The Australian prime minister said plans for the nuclear-powered submarines would be developed over the next 18 months and the vessels would be built in Adelaide, Australia. China sharply criticised the US, the UK and Australia's trilateral military partnership under which Canberra would be assisted to build nuclear-powered submarines for the first time, saying it would closely monitor the pact that will gravely undermine regional stability and aggravate the arms race and hurt international non-proliferation efforts. The partnership “greatly undermines regional peace and stability, aggravates the arms race and hurts the international non-proliferation efforts,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing on Thursday. He also questioned Australia’s commitment to foregoing nuclear weapons, and said the US and UK were “using nuclear exports as geopolitical gaming tool and applying double standards.”