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China condemns Aukus submarine plan as threat to peace in the Pacific

(left to right) Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese, US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announce the latest stage of the Aukus agreement (Leon Neal/PA)
Gavin Cordon, PA Whitehall Editor

China has accused the UK, US and Australia of fuelling a new arms race after an agreement by the three powers to develop a new generation of nuclear-powered submarines.

The Chinese mission to the United Nations said the UK and US were violating the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in transferring weapons-grade enriched uranium to a non-nuclear weapons power.

It follows Monday's summit in San Diego, California, where Rishi Sunak, US president Joe Biden and Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese set out details of the latest stage of the Aukus partnership.

Under the agreement intended to counter China's increasing military assertiveness in the Pacific, Australia will get its first nuclear-powered submarines.

It will also provide the Royal Navy with replacements for its seven Astute submarines, potentially doubling the size of the fleet of its attack boats.

The vessels will not be nuclear-armed and the NPT allows the transfer of fissile material for non-weapons use, like naval propulsion, without the need for monitoring by the UN watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

However, in a series of tweets, the Chinese mission to the UN said the move clearly breached the “object and purpose” of the NPT.

“The nuclear submarine cooperation plan released today by Aukus 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,” it said.

“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.

“Such a textbook case of double standard will damage the authority and effectiveness of the international non-proliferation system.

“We urge the trio to honour their obligations as members of the NPT and respond to the (will) of the international community.”

At a launch ceremony at a US naval base, Mr Sunak said the Aukus agreement was dedicated to keeping the oceans “free, open and prosperous” and “maintaining freedom, peace, and security now and for generations to come”.

The agreement is expected to create thousands of jobs at British shipyards, with the UK's submarines mainly being built by BAE Systems at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, and Rolls-Royce, with the US sharing sensitive technology for the project.

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