Beijing has slammed the new US alliance with Australia and Britain, under which Canberra will acquire nuclear submarine technology, as an “extremely irresponsible” threat to regional stability.
The agreement “seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race”, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular press briefing on Thursday.
The Western allies did not mention China when unveiling the submarine deal on Wednesday (US time), but their intent was clear, with each referring to regional security concerns.
The announcement comes as Australia has been boosting defence spending with a wary eye on a rapidly rising and more assertive China.
The alliance is seen as a bid to offset China’s growing economic and military reach in the Asia-Pacific region.
“The export of highly sensitive nuclear submarine technology by the United States and Britain to Australia once again proves that they use nuclear exports as a tool of geopolitical games and adopt double standards, which is extremely irresponsible,” Mr Zhao said.
He added that the deal gave regional countries “reason to question Australia’s sincerity in abiding by its nuclear non-proliferation commitments”.
He urged the Western allies to “abandon their outdated Cold War zero-sum thinking” or risk “shooting themselves in the foot”.
‘We are prepared to act to meet the common danger’: Abbott
Former Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott described the new submarine deal as a brave decision, overturning decades of strategic caution.
“This is the biggest decision that any Australian government has made in decades,” he told Sky News
“It’s an important decision because it indicates that we are going to stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States and the United Kingdom in meeting the great strategic challenge of our time, which obviously, is China.
“We will be a much safer and stronger country as a result of this historic decision.”
Mr Abbott warned about China’s growing influence in the Asia-Pacific, describing the nation as a common danger for Australia and its allies.
“I don’t think people have quite worked out yet, just how massive the Chinese military machine has become. In sheer numbers, the Chinese fleet is now much larger than the US fleet in terms of missiles,” he said.
“China has an extraordinary capability to strike targets in the western Pacific.
“And the best way to ensure that the unthinkable remains the unlikely is to be prepared for the worst and what Australia indicated today, along with our great partners, the United States and Britain, we are prepared to act to meet the common danger. The danger is real. We have to meet it.”
However, former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd, who is also president of the Asia Society, cautioned the Morrison government against direct criticism of China.
“It is too overt in the way in which it uses its language on these questions,” Mr Rudd told 730.
“It is far better that we develop our kit and equipment as Australia, around a range of contingencies and not engage in loose public rhetorical language about it being directed against one country or another.”
Mr Rudd argued that approach risked compounding Australia’s problems with China, rather than minimising them.
The relationship between the two countries has become increasingly volatile since Australia called for an inquiry into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Chinese government subsequently blocking or limiting a growing number of Australian exports.
“The question for Australia is — are you going be an intelligent ally in response to that and develop the capabilities able to defend Australia against a range of contingencies, assist our allies as needed?” Mr Rudd said.
“Or are we going to be an unintelligent ally, take out a megaphone and broadcast an assault against Beijing rhetorically any day of the week, and therefore as a consequence paint a very large target on our forehead?”
ABC/AFPInternet Explorer Channel Network