AUKUS on the go: Biden meets with Australian, UK leaders on subs pact
The US, Australian, and British leaders will outline plans to give Australia nuclear-powered submarines, further fueling tensions in the Indo-Pacific region.
US President Joe Biden will meet with the leaders of Australia and the United Kingdom on Monday at a naval station in California for an expected announcement of a nuclear submarine pact.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will join Biden at the San Diego facility 18 months after their countries founded the AUKUS alliance with the primary purpose of bringing Australia into the fold of navies with nuclear-powered submarines.
While Australia has ruled out deploying nuclear weapons, the acquisition of nuclear-powered vessels will change its role in a US-led endeavor to maintain the Pacific's decades-old balance of power.
As per US media, Biden will propose a long-term, multi-stage plan to make Australia a full participant in the deployment of top-secret American nuclear technologies traditionally shared exclusively with longtime ally Britain.
While the plan will take years to implement, it is an ambitious move from Australia and the United States as they consider China's rapid growth of military strength, including Beijing's construction of a formidable naval fleet and the conversion of manmade islands into offshore facilities.
During the next two years, more than $6 billion in additional financing will "replenish and fortify crucial munitions stores, modernize the UK's nuclear business, and support the next phase of the AUKUS submarine program," Downing Street announced Monday.
A 'crisis of trust'
Australia had originally planned to replace its old fleet of diesel-powered submarines with a $66 billion package of conventionally powered French vessels.
Canberra's unexpected declaration that it was withdrawing from the pact and joining the AUKUS project prompted a brief but unusually heated row between all three countries and its strong ally France.
Australia is currently attempting to wield the technologically superior US and, subsequently, US-British underwater vessels, which will be capable of remaining submerged virtually indefinitely and launching massive cruise missiles.
When compared to Australia's Collins-class submarines, the Virginia class is over twice as long and carries 132 crew members rather than 48.
On its account, China has constantly warned that AUKUS risked setting off an arms race and accused the three countries of setting back nuclear nonproliferation efforts.
"We urge the US, the UK and Australia to abandon the Cold War mentality and zero-sum games, honor international obligations in good faith and do more things that are conducive to regional peace and stability," Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning told journalists in Beijing.
Chinese President Xi Jinping made a statement last week accusing the United States of leading a Western effort at "all-round containment, encirclement and suppression of China."
It is worth noting that Chinese Australian relations have been in a downward spiral for several years due to the UK's aggressive policy toward Beijing, most notably on China's internal matters in Hong Kong and Taiwan.