by Miao Zhengming
In September 2021, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia announced a new security partnership called AUKUS. In March 2023, Joint Leaders Statement on AUKUS mentioned that its first major initiative was to support Australia in acquiring conventionally-armed and nuclear-powered submarines, making Australia the seventh member of the exclusive club of nuclear propulsion states.
Just as a spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry has said, nuclear submarine cooperation between the three countries involves the transfer of large amounts of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium from nuclear weapon states to a non-nuclear state, which poses a serious risk of nuclear proliferation and violates the object and purpose of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
Considering the latest trilateral arrangement, the AUKUS security partnership will not bring security to the Asia-Pacific region; on the contrary, it will threaten Australia’s security and harm the stability of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Western Pacific Region. Furthermore, AUKUS will inevitably trigger unnecessary competition between great powers.
DAMAGE SECURITY FOR AUSTRALIA
Some people raised concerns that submarine cooperation will curtail Australia’s sovereign capability rather than strengthen it. The most obvious example is the “rotational forces” of U.S. and UK submarines that will visit Australia as early as 2027, which may backfire and threaten the country’s sovereign security.
The cost of Australia’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines will be huge, and the project has drawn intense criticism at home. The deal will cost Australia between 268 billion and 368 billion U.S. dollars over the next 30 years.
Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating has labeled the AUKUS submarine purchase as the “worst deal in all history” and the “worst international decision” by a Labor government since Billy Hughes tried to introduce conscription.
In addition, managing nuclear submarine waste — a requirement under the deal — will be a massive headache for Australia, which has not found a suitable place to store the inevitable waste.
DAMAGE SECURITY FOR WESTERN PACIFIC REGION
Some ASEAN states are deeply concerned about the development of the AUKUS submarine deal. They believe it will spark a nuclear arms race in the Western Pacific, provoke confrontation between major powers and undermine regional security.
The submarine deal shows that Australia has abandoned its traditional pragmatic approach and shifted to relying on U.S. integrated deterrence, which will undermine political trust with regional countries.
The Chinese mission to the United Nations said AUKUS’s nuclear submarine cooperation plan is “a blatant act that constitutes serious nuclear proliferation risks, undermines the international non-proliferation system, will fuel an arms race and hurts peace and stability in the region.”
DAMAGE SECURITY AND ORDER IN HIGH-TECH FIELD
Lastly, AUKUS is ambitious and runs deeper than submarines. The trilateral initiative seeks to expand the existing alliance structure into the field of cutting-edge technologies, like cyberspace, quantum computing and artificial intelligence.
The partnership may seek to deter other countries’ scientific development by building small blocs on technology and making it political and ideological.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that promoting cooperation on nuclear submarines and other cutting-edge military technologies is a typical Cold War mentality, which will only stimulate an arms race, undermine the international nuclear non-proliferation system, and damage regional peace and stability.
The spokesperson added that the latest joint statement issued by the three countries shows that they have gone further down a dangerous road for their own geopolitical self-interest, completely ignoring the international community’s concerns.
AUKUS should be a mutually beneficial and constructive dialogue rather than an exclusive and destructive system.
AUKUS should not force countries to take sides to create regional divisions.
No one should base their security on the insecurity of other countries. AUKUS should avoid expanding any military presence in the Asia-Pacific and work toward regional peace and stability.
Editor’s note: Miao Zhengming is an assistant research fellow of the Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Xinhua News Agency.