The US, UK and Australia are setting up a trilateral security partnership aimed at confronting China, which will include helping Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines.

The initiative, called Aukus, was announced jointly by US president Joe Biden and prime ministers Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison, joined virtually by videoconference. They presented it as the next critical step in an old alliance.

Morrison said teams from the three countries would draw up a joint plan over the coming 18 months for assembling the new Australian nuclear-powered submarine fleet, which will be built in Adelaide. The project will make Australia only the seventh country in the world to have submarines propelled by nuclear reactors.Advertisement

“This will include an intense examination of what we need to do to exercise our nuclear stewardship responsibilities here in Australia,” the Australian prime minister said, referring to the international treaty obligations on handling nuclear fuel. Morrison added: “But let me be clear. Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability.”

None of the three leaders mentioned China, but there was no doubt that the initiative was a response to China’s expansionist drive in the South China Sea and increasing belligerence towards Taiwan.

“We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region, and how it may evolve, because the future of each of our nations and indeed the world, depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead,” Biden said.

Speaking from London, Johnson said the three countries were “natural allies” even though “we may be separated geographically” and said the alliance would create “a new defence partnership and driving jobs and prosperity”.

Turning to the Australian submarine-building plan, Johnson said: “This will be one of the most complex and technically demanding projects in the world, lasting decades and requiring the most advanced technology.

A senior US official described the agreement as “a fundamental decision, that binds decisively Australia to the United States and Great Britain for generations”.

More detail here