LONDON – China has criticized the United States, Britain and Australia over its deal on nuclear-powered submarines, which Beijing and some experts warned was setting a dangerous precedent at a dangerous moment for global security. Can do.
A deal formally announced by the leaders of the three Western allies in San Diego on Monday will provide Australia with conventionally armed submarines as part of a wider effort to counter a growing geopolitical threat from China.
The deal – known as AUKUS – takes advantage of a loophole in a landmark global nuclear treaty that has raised fears from arms control experts. And Beijing hit back on Tuesday, accusing all three of endangering the nuclear non-proliferation system.
“The three countries are pursuing a wrong and dangerous path for their own selfish political gains, completely disregarding the concerns of the international community,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin. said at a regular news briefing.
A nuclear-powered example?
The five main nuclear-weapon states – the US, the UK, France, Russia and China – are all signatories to the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which pledges to work towards preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons . nuclear disarmament.
However, the AUKUS deal uses a clause that allows fissile material, the key component in nuclear weapons, to be transferred to a non-nuclear state when it is not in use by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Inspection is not required. For “explosive use”.
The deal will make Australia the seventh country in the world to have nuclear-powered submarines after the US, UK, France, China, India and Russia.
The UN nuclear watchdog said in a statement on Tuesday that it had been assured by the AUKUS partners that they would maintain the current non-proliferation regime, but added that it “must ensure that the project poses no proliferation risk”. “
The White House said the three countries have “consulted regularly with the IAEA over the past year” and will continue to work to “strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime and set the strongest non-proliferation precedent”.
The Chinese mission to the United Nations nevertheless called the deal a clear violation of the nuclear treaty that could help fuel an arms race.
“#AUKUS The irony is that the two nuclear-weapon states that claim to uphold the highest nuclear non-proliferation standard are transferring tons of weapons-grade enriched uranium to a non-nuclear-weapon state, apparently are in violation of the aims and objectives of the NPT,” it said in a series of tweets on Monday.
The mission further stated that the AUKUS deal would “damage the authority and effectiveness of the international non-proliferation system,” a possible indication that China may reject the treaty in the future.
And while Beijing may have its own interests, China was not alone in expressing concern over the issue.
“The concern is that other countries may capitalize on this precedent by developing or renewing interest in nuclear-powered submarines and using this to evade IAEA safeguards on their nuclear programs,” Ludovica Castelli, a doctorate on nuclear issues The researchers, from the University of Leicester in England, told NBC News.
“Aside from the benign or malicious intent that a country may have, a reduction in IAEA surveillance activity is a negative pattern. Furthermore, there is an inverse relationship between the credibility and robustness of the enforcement process and the admission of a double standard.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong told the Guardian newspaper that the Chinese criticism “wasn’t really grounded.”
In recent years, China has engaged in an expansion of its nuclear weapons arsenal, according to independent experts and the Pentagon’s assessment, while Washington and other governments accuse its ally, North Korea, of failing to act to deter Is. is building its own nuclear weapons stockpile.
Chinese state media has dismissed reports by the United States about its investment in nuclear weapons as propaganda, and that the US nuclear arsenal is far larger than China’s stockpile.
The US and its allies believe that they had to enter into a defense pact to counter China’s growing military might and its aggressive behavior in the region.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One on Monday that the agreement was part of Washington’s efforts to “help ensure peace and stability” in the Indo-Pacific region. He stressed that the deal, which has been in the works for nearly 18 months, should not come as a surprise to Beijing.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in an interview with NBC News on Sunday that China represents “a systemic challenge to the world order”.
But while the submarine deal came at a time of heightened tensions, it also came at a time of heightened fears about nuclear security.