SYDNEY, Sept. 16 Reuters - Australia will build eight nuclear-powered subs under an Indo-Pacific security partnership with China that analysts say will likely rile China, which denounced the creation of blocs intent on harming others.
Britain will be the second world country after Australia in 1958 to be given access to U.S nuclear technologies to make nuclear-powered submarines.
Our world is becoming complex, particularly in Indo-Pacific, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
To meet these challenges, and to help deliver the security and stability our region needs, we must now take our partnership to a new level. In announcing the new security group on Wednesday, the leaders of the United States, Australia and Britain did not mention China, but Washington and its allies are trying to push back against its growing power and influence, especially its military buildup, pressure on Taiwan and deployments in the contested South China SeaChina Sea.
China's U.S. embassy said 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.
The trilateral pact, which includes access to U.S. nuclear submarine technology, is seen as a threat in Beijing, said senior fellow Richard Maude at Asia Society Policy Institute.
China will see the suit of announcements today as further evidence of a strengthening coalition to balance its power It will object, but its own assertive and uncompromising behaviour is driving these new alignments. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed the focus on Indo-Pacific, but said Australia's new nuclear-powered submarines would not be permitted in its territorial waters under a long-standing nuclear free policy.
I am pleased to see that the eye has been turned to our region by partners we work closely with. It's a contested region and there is a role that others can play in taking an interest in our region, Ardern said at a news conference.
Malaysia said the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Morrison in a phone call that Singapore had longstanding relations with Australia, Britain and the United States, and hoped the new grouping would contribute constructively to the peace and stability of the region and complement the regional architecture Morrison also called leaders in Japan, New Zealand and India.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Japan would collaborate with the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Grouping of the United States, Australia & India, as well as Southeast Asia's ASEAN grouping and Europe to achieve a Quad grouping.
The strengthening of security and defence cooperation between the United States, Britain and Australia is important for the peace and security of the Indo-Pacific region, he said at a regular news conference.
Morrison said Australia would scrap a $40 billion deal with France to develop nuclear submarines to replace its ageing Collins-Class Fleet and negotiate over 18 months with the United States and Britain to build eight nuclear submarines.
Australia has no plans to acquire nuclear weapons and this proposal will remain consistent with Australia's longstanding commitment to nuclear non-proliferation, he said.
Nuclear submarines can spend longer underwater, allowing for stealth in potential flashpoint areas with China such as the South China SeaChina Sea, security analysts said.
Beijing will certainly interpret the new subs as a shot across China's bow, Bates Gill, head of Asia-Pacific Security Studies at Macquarie University, told Reuters.
Like the recently announced plan to acquire long-range anti-ship missiles, this move is intended to deter hostile maritime forces from approaching Australia. Australia is currently the only country who could pose that kind of threat to China, Gill said.
Australia will also enhance its long range strike capability with Tomahawk cruise missiles deployed on naval destroyers and air-to surface missiles for its FA 18 Hornet jets.
The submarine decision reflects growing concern in the government about China's military build-up, future intentions in the region and willingness to use coercion said Maude.
The trilateral security pact could worsen Australia's punitive trade relationship with its biggest export customer China, but its insatiable appetite for resources may limit its strained response, say analysts.
Australia has suspended hefty tariffs and restrictions on Australian imports of items including wine, beef and barley, and outright banned coal imports to express its anger over the foreign policies of China.
This month, Morrison will travel to Washington to meet the leaders of the Quad, a group which has also been criticised by China, to discuss security.