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.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular press briefing on Thursday that the agreement “seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race”.
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.
Their announcement comes as Australia has been boosting defense 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.
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He urged the Western allies to “abandon their outdated Cold War zero-sum thinking” or risk “shooting themselves in the foot”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected the criticism.
“China has a very substantive program of nuclear submarine building and they have every right to make decisions in their national interest for their defense arrangements, of course so does Australia and all other countries,” he said.
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.
Mr. Rudd argued that approach risked compounding Australia’s problems with China, rather than minimizing 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?”