China has declared the new defence pact between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom "gravely undermines regional peace and stability" while branding Australia's acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines a damaging setback to global non-proliferation efforts.
Chinese government spokesman Zhao Lijian also rejected Prime Minister Scott Morrison's suggestion he had extended an "open invitation" to President Xi Jinping to reopen talks between the two countries, saying he was not aware of that.
The announcement of a new trilateral security partnership between Australia, the US and the UK was accompanied by a dramatic ramping up of Australia's defences as it looks to secure itself against a rising China.
Along with the nuclear submarines planned acquisition, Morrison said Australia wanted to enhance its arsenal with long-range US Tomahawk missiles.
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The historic new AUKUS alliance was slammed by Zhao in a press briefing in Beijing late on Thursday.
He described it and Australia's plan to buy the submarines as extremely irresponsible and said they would intensify the arms race in the region.
"The US, UK and Australia are engaging in co-operation in nuclear-powered submarines that gravely undermines regional peace and stability, aggravates the arms race and hurts the international non-proliferation efforts," he said.
"Australia is a non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT [non-proliferation treaty] and a party to the nuclear weapon-free zone in the Southern Pacific. Now it is importing nuclear-powered submarine technology with strategic military value. The international community, including neighbouring countries, have reason to question its commitment to nuclear non-proliferation. China will closely monitor the situation."
Diplomatic relations between Australia and China have deteriorated to their lowest ebb in many decades and Zhao said that was entirely Australia's fault.
Zhao, who enraged Morrison in November by tweeting a faked image of an Australian soldier killing an Afghan child, delivered a broadside as other nations in the region digested the huge strategic development.
Wang Yiwei, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said the presence of the submarines in Australia should be a concern for south-east Asian countries as well and was "not good for regional stability".
Morrison said he had called outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and India's Narendra Modi about the enhanced security pact and was ringing Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday.
Foreign ministries across ASEAN countries and in Japan and South Korea did not immediately react publicly to the establishment of AUKUS and Australia's plans.
Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said only that Foreign Minister Marise Payne had called her Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi on Thursday morning "regarding the procurement of nuclear submarines".
But Evan Laksmana, a political scientist with National University of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, revealed there was consternation in Indonesia, Australia's near neighbour and the largest country in south-east Asia.
"Publicly, officials are unlikely to come out strongly one way or the other. We know we cannot offer a serious alternative to the regional flux. We also know that regional countries are rightly developing non-ASEAN options," he said.
But he said "more than a few" officials were privately concerned about whether AUKUS would compound regional tension, and about the nuclear trajectory of the developments.
It comes as the strategic competition between the US and China intensifies in the region, with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi on a sweep through south-east Asia this week, a month after US Vice-President Kamala Harris' visits to Singapore and Vietnam.
Wang made stops in Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore, urging Hanoi not to "magnify conflicts through unilateral moves" and calling on it to resist "interference and incitement from regional outsiders".
Lee welcomed him to Singapore's presidential palace on Tuesday, saying the city-state "welcomes China's continued contribution in our part of the world".
"We will continue working with China to build a more harmonious and peaceful world," the Singaporean leader said.
Sydney Morning Herald
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