Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a press conference. File photo
Australia will build eight nuclear-powered submarines under a new Indo-Pacific security partnership with the United States and Britain that analysts say will likely rile China, which will see the pact as an attempt to contain it.
Under the partnership, announced by President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the United States and Britain will provide Australia with the technology and capability to deploy nuclear-powered submarines.
Australia will be only the second country after Britain in 1958 to be given access to US nuclear technology to build nuclear-powered submarines.
US President Joe Biden attends a meeting. File photo
"Our world is becoming more complex, especially here in our region, the Indo-Pacific," said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
"To meet these challenges, to help deliver the security and stability our region needs, we must now take our partnership to a new level."
The United States and its allies are looking for ways to push back against China's growing power and influence, particularly its military buildup, pressure on Taiwan and deployments in the contested South China Sea.
The three leaders did not mention China and senior Biden administration officials who briefed reporters ahead of the announcement said the partnership was not aimed at countering Beijing.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures to the media. File photo
China’s US embassy reacted, however, by saying that countries "should not build exclusionary blocs targeting or harming the interests of third parties."
"In particular, they should shake off their Cold-War mentality and ideological prejudice," it said.
James Clapper, a former director of US national intelligence, told CNN it was a bold step by Australia given its economy's dependence on China, adding: "Clearly the Chinese will view this as provocative."
Republican Senator Ben Sasse said the agreement "sends a clear message of strength to Chairman Xi."
"I'll always applaud concrete steps to counter Beijing and this is one of them," he said.
A US official briefing before the announcement said Biden had not mentioned the plans "in any specific terms" to Chinese leader Xi Jinping in a call last Thursday, but did "underscore our determination to play a strong role in the Indo-Pacific."
The country said Biden is acting like his predecessor Donald Trump after Paris was pushed aside from a lucrative defence deal that it had signed with Australia for submarines.
It is the first agreement on the technology to be publicly signed since the three countries announced in September the formation of a defence alliance, AUKUS, to confront strategic tensions in the Pacific where China-US rivalry is growing.
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