China was incensed by America's new security cooperation with Australia and the United Kingdom, which was an undeclared target of Washington's latest attempt to enhance its influence in the region.
The agreement also enraged France, a long-time ally who thought the submarine-focused deal threatened its Indo-Pacific interests. Forget about "freedom fries," the bitter diplomatic spat between the US and France over the latter's unwillingness to support the US invasion of Iraq.
The submarine snub is part of a widening disagreement between Washington and Paris over the Biden administration's plan to help Australia build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, among other defense technologies, as part of a deal announced by the White House on Wednesday.
France denounces US nuclear submarine deal with the UK, Australia
In an interview with Franceinfo on Thursday, France's foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, referred to Australia's move to cut a deal with the US as "a knife in the back."
The defense pact, which includes the United Kingdom, is meant to counter growing Chinese military aggression in the Indo-Pacific. And China is furious, too. But they're not accusing the US and Australia of an epic betrayal.
Australia has terminated its submarine contract with the French, which was expected to be worth between $50 billion and $90 billion, according to various media sources. Per USA Today, it was termed the "contract of the century" by one Australian publication.
Meanwhile, Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry, claimed the deal seriously damaged regional peace and stability, intensified the arms race, and weakened international nuclear nonproliferation efforts during a press conference on Thursday.
Any regional coalition, Zhao stressed, "shall not target or hurt the interests of third parties." A Biden administration official underlined at a briefing before the announcement on Wednesday evening that the deal is not directed at any one country, NBC News reported.
However, the AUKUS agreement comes as the US intensifies its attempts to challenge China. For the first time, Australia will be able to build nuclear-powered submarines utilizing technology that the United States had previously been shared with the United Kingdom. The agreement also lets the three countries work together more closely on cyber capabilities and artificial intelligence, among other things.
The US defends new alliance
After the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, and Russia, Australia will be the seventh country in the world to have nuclear-powered submarines. Australia, unlike the other countries, does not possess nuclear weapons.
Beijing-Canberra relations have weakened, with the US ally emerging as a crucial bulwark in the West's efforts to counter China's rising influence. In response, China, Australia's largest trading partner, has launched a trade war.
Australia will abandon its 2016 agreement with the French shipbuilder Naval Group to build a new fleet to replace its old Collins submarines as part of the AUKUS deal. Nuclear submarines are better than diesel submarines because they can operate more silently and stay below for extended periods.
It is yet unknown how the partnership will operate, how much it will cost, how many boats will be produced, and whose firms will participate.
However, the Australian defense and foreign ministries only announced the arrangement to their French colleagues two weeks ago. However, due to Canberra's insistence that the majority of manufacturing and components be found locally, the deal has been plagued by problems and delays.
"France is a key friend and partner to Australia and the Indo-Pacific," Biden added, while Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his nation looked forward to continuing to work "closely and positively" with France.
Despite the absence of the name "China," the region's most pressing security and defense concern is the development of a more aggressive and authoritarian Beijing, as per Sky News.