The Australian government has pushed back on criticism from Beijing over the AUKUS nuclear submarine deal, saying the statement contains “numerous misleading and incorrect assertions.”
It comes after the Chinese Embassy in Canberra released a statement claiming a report from the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossim, was “neither neutral nor objective.”
In a statement released on Sept.21, the Australian government said that Beijing’s statement was incorrect.
“We are deeply disappointed by China’s—a P5 member and nuclear weapons state—unfounded and harmful claims about the professionalism and independence of the IAEA,” said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
“We welcome Director-General Grossi’s report to the September IAEA Board of Governors meeting, confirming his satisfaction with the AUKUS’ partners’ engagement with the IAEA to date and that naval nuclear propulsion is not prohibited by the NPT regime.”
The Foreign Affairs Department said it was pleased the report affirmed Australia’s compliance with reporting obligations under the IAEA Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol, while noting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) does not prohibit the acquisition of naval nuclear propulsion by non-nuclear weapon states.
“Australia’s proposed acquisition of conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines will be fully consistent with our international obligations under the NPT regime,” they said.
“We reaffirm our commitment that Australia will not acquire nuclear weapons.
“We are committed to setting the highest possible non-proliferation standard and to strengthening the global nuclear non-proliferation regime.”
Beijing Rattled By AUKUS: Expert
International affairs expert Ron Huisken from the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre said it was not surprising Beijing felt threatened by AUKUS.
“Beijing’s reaction was hardly surprising. Even against the background of the sharp deterioration a number of years earlier of Australia–China relations, resulting in an effective political and economic estrangement, the AUKUS pact was an utterly stunning development,” Huisken wrote in a piece for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
“The nuclear-powered submarine, even when equipped exclusively with conventional weaponry, is indisputably among the most formidable weapons systems ever devised.”
He also said it might push Beijing to reconsider its own actions in the South China Sea and the deployment of several hundred short and medium-range ballistic missiles across the Taiwan Strait.
“Each of these developments is having and will have profoundly important strategic consequences,” he said.
He noted that AUKUS did not come out of nowhere.
“AUKUS, and, for that matter, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, qualify as external checks and balances on the international behaviour of other states,” he said. “Broadly speaking, participating states go to the trouble and risk of devising external checks only when their concerns about the absence of internal constraints on the behaviour of a third party have accumulated and become acute.”