WASHINGTON—The U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia are creating a new security partnership in the Indo-Pacific, building on the longstanding alliance between the three to share intelligence, deepen cooperation and help Australia to build nuclear-powered submarine capabilities as China’s influence grows.
The new agreement, announced Wednesday by leaders of the three countries, was described by administration officials as a way to line up common interests in the Asia Pacific.
The partnership is called AUKUS, an acronym for Australia, United Kingdom and the U.S.. and will have a number of components, chief among them the development of the nuclear submarine capability for Australia. Others include security cooperation in cyberspace, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and undersea capabilities, administration officials said Wednesday.
Officials declined to say the effort was intended to counter China, describing it as an effort to engage three allies together strategically in an important region. The announcement comes shortly after the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan last month, which was described as part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to focus on issues in the Indo-Pacific, including China.
“This partnership is not aimed, or about any one country, it’s about advancing our strategic interests, upholding the international rules based order and promoting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” one official said. “This is about a larger effort to sustain the fabric of engagement and deterrence in the Indo-Pacific.”
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington urged the U.S. and others to “shake off their Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice.”
“Exchanges and cooperation between countries should help expand mutual understanding and trust,” the spokesman said. “They should not build exclusionary blocs targeting or [harm] the interests of third parties.”
President Biden, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison appeared virtually together to announce the partnership.
“This is about investing in our greatest sources of strength, our alliances, and updating them to better meet the threats of today and tomorrow,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s about connecting America’s existing allies and partners in new ways and amplifying our ability to collaborate.”
All three leaders stressed that the new submarine would be nuclear-powered and not armed, keeping in line with nuclear nonproliferation measures. None of them mentioned China in their remarks.
The announcement of the security partnership also comes after the United Kingdom announced earlier this month that it was sending a carrier strike group to the Indo-Pacific region.
The U.S., the U.K. and Australia already take part in common security arrangements, and all three participate in the Five Eyes alliance, an intelligence-sharing arrangement that also includes Canada and New Zealand. The new security structure provides for the technology cooperation needed to share nuclear submarine technology and other common efforts in a region where China poses growing security concerns.
The U.S. and U.K. are starting an 18-month period of consultation on helping Australia develop the nuclear submarine capability. That would eventually allow Canberra to conduct faster, stealthier submarine missions of longer duration than conventional submarine technology allows.
The U.S. has shared its technology in developing such a capability only with the U.K. White House officials declined to say how long it would take Australia to build a nuclear submarine but said Australia’s conventional submarines fall short of the stealth, range, speed and maneuverability needed to confront nations like China.
Biden administration officials have traveled to the region and sought to strengthen military alliances around the Pacific and with India. The administration hasn’t rolled out an economic and trade strategy to compete with China, the big economy in the region that U.S. officials have accused of coercing smaller economies.
Former President Donald Trump withdrew U.S. involvement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would have more closely linked the U.S. to Australia and other Pacific economies, and the Biden team is currently reviewing trade policy options.
Meanwhile, China, angry over Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s call for an international investigation into the first outbreak of Covid-19 in China, has imposed a series of import restrictions and tariffs on Australian products including coal, wine and barley.
—William Mauldin and Tarini Parti contributed to this article.
Write to Gordon Lubold at [email protected]
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