The UK last night announced a new “landmark” security pact with the US and Australia in a move that’s been widely seen as an attempt to tackle China.
AUKUS, as the new partnership will be known, will initially focus on acquiring nuclear-powered submarines for Australia for the first time ever.
But the deal, the biggest partnership between the nations since the Second World War, will also cover artificial intelligence, cyber and quantum technologies.
It comes at a time when China is becoming more assertive in the Indo-Pacific region, with increasing concerns about disputes in the South China Sea.
In a joint statement Boris Johnson, along with US President Joe Biden and Australian PM Scott Morrison, said that the new alliance would “protect our shared values and promote security and prosperity”.
In response, China’s embassy in Washington hit back, accusing the new partners of having “Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice”.
At the centre of the partnership is an agreement to help Australia procure and build eight new nuclear-powered submarines.
The three leaders were clear that the subs would not be equipped with nuclear weapons, but rather have nuclear-powered propulsion systems.
To this end, Canberra has torn up an existing AU$50bn (£27bn), 12 submarine deal it signed with France in 2016, much to the chagrin of Emmanuel Macron’s government.
“The American choice to push aside a European ally and partner like France from a structural partnership with Australia at a time we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region … shows a lack of coherence that France can only acknowledge and regret,” foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and defense Minister Florence Parly said in a statement.
But Johnson said that Australia was a “natural partner” for the new enterprise.
“It is a momentous decision for any nation to acquire this formidable capability, and perhaps equally momentous for any other state to come to its aid.
“But Australia is one of our oldest friends, a kindred nation and a fellow democracy, and a natural partner in this great enterprise.”