Canberra’s plan to purchase up to five nuclear-powered submarines from the US has triggered a harsh rebuke from Beijing, which accused Washington and London of neglecting their obligations as nuclear powers and members of the NPT.
“The nuclear submarine cooperation plan… is a blatant act that constitutes serious nuclear proliferation risks, undermines international non-proliferation system, fuels arms races, and hurts peace and stability in the region,” China’s mission to the United Nations said in a series of tweets on Tuesday morning.
Speaking at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego on Monday, US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Australian PM Anthony Albanese announced plans for a new class of submarines, SSN-AUKUS, that will be built in the UK and Australia with US technology and support sometime in the late 2030s or early 2040s.
However, in order to obtain the new capability as soon as possible, Australia will first purchase at least three Virginia-class submarines from the US.
Since the AUKUS alliance was created in 2021, Beijing has repeatedly criticized the trio for stretching the limits of nuclear proliferation. The US-built subs are fueled with weapons-grade highly enriched uranium, but the allies insist that a loophole exempts naval reactors from NPT safeguards.
Read more: QUAD, AUKUS, and China’s possible response
“The irony of AUKUS is that two nuclear weapons states who claim to uphold the highest nuclear non-proliferation standard are transferring tons of weapons-grade enriched uranium to a non-nuclear-weapon state, clearly violating the object and purpose of the NPT,” China’s diplomatic mission added on Tuesday, calling the planned transfer of nuclear technology and materials a “textbook case of double standard” and urging the trio to “honor their obligations as members of the NPT.”