China is furious over a new US-UK-Australia nuclear submarine deal that could counter Beijing’s growing military might

Zhao Lijian
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian attends a news conference in Beijing, China April 8, 2020. He made scathing remarks against the US, UK, and Australia on Thursday. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
  • China excoriated the US, UK, and Australia for a nuclear submarine deal announced Wednesday.
  • The deal is seen as move to respond against China’s growing military, although leaders never said that explicitly.
  • A Chinese spokesperson accused the three nations for having an “outdated Cold War zero-sum mentality.”
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China tore into the US, UK, and Australia for signing a defense technology deal that would help Australia form a nuclear-powered submarine fleet – a partnership that experts believe also serves as a response to Beijing’s rapidly growing military might.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called the deal “extremely irresponsible” and said the trio of nations “should abandon the outdated Cold War zero-sum mentality and narrow-minded geopolitical stability.”

“Otherwise, they will only end up shooting themselves in the foot,” he said at a press conference on Thursday.

Zhao highlighted Australia’s use of nuclear power for its pending submarine fleet, calling into question if it really intends to keep to its status as a nuclear non-proliferation country.

“The nuclear submarine cooperation between the US, the UK and Australia has seriously undermined regional peace and stability, intensified the arms race and undermined international non-proliferation efforts,” said Zhao. He also accused the US and UK of holding double standards with their stances on nuclear weapons.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has said the deal has nothing to do with acquiring nuclear weapons, and that Australia has no intention of doing so.

Morrison, US president Joe Biden, and UK prime minister Boris Johnson didn’t mention China in their announcement of their deal on Wednesday.

But the security partnership, dubbed “AUKUS,” is seen by analysts as a push to rein in Beijing’s rapidly expanding military might. Two US officials familiar with the matter told Politico that countering China is an important subtext in the deal.

The West has been increasingly concerned by China’s aggression in the South China Sea, where Beijing continues to augment its military presence in disputed waters and escalate tensions with its neighbors.

UK defense secretary Ben Wallace told the BBC that China is “embarking on one of the biggest military spends in history.”

“It is growing its navy [and] air force at a huge rate. Obviously it is engaged in some disputed areas. Our partners in those regions want to be able to stand their own ground,” Wallace said.

Australia and China have been locked in an ugly trade disagreement since last year, with the latter hiking up tariffs and accusing Australia of manipulating markets.

The recent security deal hasn’t offended just China; France felt that it had been snubbed when the partnership upended a $US35.5 ($AU49) billion contract it signed to help build Australian submarines.

“This brutal, unilateral, and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr. Trump used to do,” said French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.