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Wang Yi: U.S.-Britain-Australia Nuclear Submarine Cooperation Causes Five Harms to the Region

On September 29, 2021, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi had a phone conversation with the Malaysian and Bruneian foreign ministers, respectively. The three foreign ministers exchanged views on and expressed grave concerns over the tripartite security partnership among the United States, Britain and Australia (AUKUS) and their planned nuclear submarine cooperation. Wang Yi said, in so doing, AUKUS will possibly cause five harms to the region:

First, this move may trigger the risk of nuclear proliferation. According to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, non-nuclear-weapon states can only use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under supervision and safeguards. Nuclear submarines, however, are used for military purposes and are fueled by highly enriched uranium, which can be used directly to build nuclear weapons, while the International Atomic Energy Agency is unable to conduct effective and timely supervision of nuclear submarines. While the United States has imposed unilateral sanctions on countries developing enriched uranium technology, it gave Australia a green light, which will inevitably give rise to the risk of proliferation of nuclear technology and materials and deal a blow to the international nuclear non-proliferation system.

Second, the move may induce a new round of arms race. Nuclear submarines are strategic security forces and capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Australia's move will break the strategic balance in the region, make the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty it has signed a mere scrap of paper, and constitute a real threat to countries in the region, not ruling out the possibility that other countries may follow suit to wage a new round of arms race or even cross the nuclear threshold.

Third, the move may undermine regional prosperity and stability. Thanks to the concerted efforts of China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) over the years, the region has become the most dynamic and fastest-growing one in the world. We should cherish such hard-won results. However, AUKUS sets on creating regional tensions, casting a shadow over the region's peace, stability, and development.

Fourth, the move may sabotage the building of a nuclear-free zone in Southeast Asia. The Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ Treaty) reflects the common will of the people in Southeast Asian countries, which ought to be understood and respected by other countries. China was the first one among the five countries with nuclear weapons to support the SEANWFZ Treaty and announce its willingness to sign a protocol to this end. The United States and Britain chose not to participate in the SEANWFZ Treaty. Instead, they have transferred military nuclear technology to the region under various pretexts and also provided the region with highly enriched uranium materials, running counter to the efforts made by ASEAN countries to build a nuclear-free zone.

Fifth, the move may lead to the resurgence of the Cold War mentality. Just like the Quad that groups the United States, Japan, India, and Australia, AUKUS is also subservient to and serves the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific strategy, seeking to go its own way and start all over again, with an eye to provoking rivalry among different sides in the region and ushering in geopolitical zero-sum games. It goes against the trend of the times and is a resurgence of the Cold War mentality, which should arouse vigilance and opposition from countries in the region and the international community.

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