The US and UK are facing growing international criticism over a new security pact signed with Australia.
The agreement, seen as an effort to counter China, will see the United States and the United Kingdom provide Australia with the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines.
The move, however, infuriated France, which claimed it had been “stabbed in the back,” while China accused the three powers of having a “Cold War mentality.”
Furthermore, the pact has sparked fears that it will provoke China into war.
The Aukus alliance was announced on Wednesday by US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison.
While they did not mention China, Aukus is widely perceived as an attempt to counter Beijing’s influence in the disputed South China Sea.
Later, Mr Johnson told MPs that the agreement was “not meant to be adversarial” to China.
However, the prime minister was pressed by his predecessor, Theresa May, on whether the agreement could lead to Britain being drawn into a war with China.
She questioned the prime minister on the “implications” of the alliance in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
“The United Kingdom remains determined to defend international law,” Mr Johnson responded, “and that is the strong advice we would give to our friends around the world, as well as the strong advice we would give to the government in Beijing.”
Taiwan, which is democratic, regards itself as a sovereign state, but Beijing has increased pressure on the island, which it regards as a breakaway province.
‘A very low moment’
Meanwhile, Washington has attempted to assuage French outrage over the pact, which has scuttled a multibillion-dollar submarine deal France had signed with Australia.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian of France called the announcement a “stab in the back.”
He described it as a “brutal, unilateral, and unpredictable decision,” similar to that of former US President Donald Trump.
In retaliation, French diplomats in Washington cancelled a gala to celebrate US-French relations.
“It’s a very low moment,” France’s former ambassador to the United States, Gérard Araud, told BBC World Tonight. “The United States knew that this contract and this strategic contract were critical to French national interests, and the United States didn’t care.”
France, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, is a “vital partner,” and Washington will continue to work “incredibly closely” with Paris.
Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary, dismissed the French criticism.
“There are a variety of partnerships that include the French and some that do not, and they have partnerships with other countries that do not include us,” she explained. “That is how global diplomacy operates.”
‘Profound strategic shift’
The pact, which will also see the allies share cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, and other undersea technologies, was described by the UK’s national security adviser Stephen Lovegrove as demonstrating “profound strategic shifts.”
As a result, Australia will be only the seventh country in the world to operate nuclear-powered submarines.
According to Mr. Lovegrove, the agreement is “possibly the most significant capability collaboration in the world anywhere in the last six decades.”
China, meanwhile, has accused the allies of having a “Cold War mentality” that would hurt their own interests.
The Chinese state-run Global Times warned of a nuclear submarine arms race, adding that Australian soldiers would most likely be the “first to die” in a Chinese “counterattack.”
In addition, China’s President Xi Jinping stated on Friday that foreign powers should not be allowed to interfere in domestic affairs.
According to state media, he stated, “The future of our country’s development and progress should be firmly in our own hands.”
However, Australia’s defence minister, Peter Dutton, dismissed Beijing’s reaction.
“This is not the first time that we’ve seen different outbursts from China in terms of Australia’s position,” he said.
“We are a proud democracy in our region. We stand with our neighbours in the Indo-Pacific to ensure enduring peace, and this collaboration makes it a safer region. That’s the reality and no amount of propaganda can dismiss the facts.”
Meanwhile, China applied to join a key Asia-Pacific trade pact on Thursday as it attempts to strengthen its position in the region.
The country’s foreign ministry, however, denied that the move to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) was a response to the UK-US-Australia pact.
Joining the CPTPP, which was signed in 2018 by 11 countries including Australia and Japan, would mark a significant boost to China’s trading power.