China's government is stepping up its campaign against Australia's efforts to build nuclear-powered submarines with the United States and the United Kingdom. China recently released a new report that claims the project poses a serious risk to non-proliferation and expresses concern that Australia may be planning to develop nuclear weapons.
A Dangerous Conspiracy: The Nuclear Proliferation Risk of the Nuclear-powered Submarines Collaboration in the Context of AUKUS is the title of a report that was released on Wednesday in Beijing by two Chinese "think tanks" (China Arms Control and Disarmament Association and China Institute of Nuclear Industry Strategy).
With AUKUS, which would for the first time let nuclear powers to transfer weapons-grade nuclear materials to a non-nuclear state, Australia, the US, and the UK are criticized for creating a "dangerous precedent."
According to the research, this "ferments possible threats and hazards in numerous aspects, such as nuclear security, an arms race for nuclear submarines, and the proliferation of missile technology, with a profoundly damaging influence on global strategic balance and stability."
Both think tanks, according to Richard McGregor of the Lowy Institute, are "part of the larger fabric of the Chinese party-state" rather than standing alone, and the report is a component of a coordinated offensive by the Chinese government on AUKUS.
"The Chinese government has long been campaigning on this, and this report just attempts to flesh out their justification, lend credence to it, and provide them with a document they can disseminate to any country they like throughout the world to make their case," he said.
We should anticipate this to happen for the ensuing decade or so because China won't give up. They will place whatever obstacles in the way of AUKUS.
Australia has already increased its diplomatic defenses against Russian and Chinese attacks against the project by increasing its resources in both Canberra and Vienna.
The "uncomfortable fact" for Australia, according to Mr. McGregor, is that China "had an argument to make" when it claimed that AUKUS would establish a new precedent.
I have no doubt that Australia will adhere to non-proliferation regulations to the letter and that nuclear grade material will be stored securely inside submarines for the duration of the boats and not be utilized to produce nuclear weapons, the official added.
However, he added, "the Chinese can counter that if the US and the UK can do this for Australia, then any other nuclear power, like Russia, could say, 'OK, we can send identical material to, say, Iran for use in their submarines.'"
"Now, we may properly trust Australia to manage this stuff, but would we trust Iran to use it in accordance with global laws? And there might be a different answer to those two issues," he said.
Claims Australia wants nuclear weapons
The Chinese government study also makes even more absurd assertions that Australia still intends to acquire nuclear weapons, citing the federal government's "obsessive pursuit" of the technology during the Menzies government's tenure in office in the 1950s and 1960s.
"Given that Australia already has a body of nuclear weapons-related knowledge accumulated historically and that it will have access to nuclear-capable delivery systems, the lead time to a nuclear breakthrough will be too short for the international community to respond effectively," the report states. "Once the country takes the desperate step to develop nuclear weapons again."
Additionally, it claims that supporters of nuclear weapons in Australian academics have "resurged" lately, but only provides two recent papers to back up that assertion.
In fact, only one of the two pieces cited explicitly urges Australia to acquire nuclear weapons.
The report's writers, according to Mr. McGregor, "picked through" papers and the historical record to portray a skewed picture," and it was "clearly not true" to indicate that there was a genuine drive among official and intellectual circles for Australia to acquire nuclear weapons.
The concept that we will quickly develop nuclear weapons is not credible, he continued, noting that we can't even agree on having nuclear energy reactors.
He said that it was important to note that the report made no mention of China's quickening development of its own nuclear arsenal.
Think tanks that are really extensions of the Chinese party-state won't produce a balanced debate, he claimed.
"Neither should we be shocked nor should we anticipate that.
China constantly criticizes other nations' military spending, citing Japan as an example, even though its own military spending outweighs that of any other nation in the region.
A representative for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) noted in a statement that the article contained "many inaccurate statements."
In relation to nuclear-powered submarines, "Australia, the US, and the UK will apply the strictest feasible non-proliferation standards to protect the strength and integrity of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime," they declared.
"The government has made it quite plain that Australia would not seek out nuclear weapons and does not do so.
"We are pursuing Australia's choice to acquire conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines in an open and transparent manner."