AUKUS alliance with Australia and Britain, not against any country, says White House

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The new trilateral security alliance AUKUS is not about any one country but aimed at advancing the strategic interests of the United States, Britain and Australia and upholding the international rules-based order while promoting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, the White House has said.

The US, Britain and Australia on Wednesday announced the AUKUS alliance for the Indo-Pacific to take on the threats of the 21st century and allow for greater sharing of defence capabilities, including help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines, in a bid to counter China's growing power in the strategically vital region.

Unveiling the ambitious security initiative virtually, US president Joe Biden, UK prime minister Boris Johnson and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison in a joint statement said their move will promote stability in the Indo-Pacific and support of their shared values and interests.

"This partnership announced yesterday is not about any one country. This is about advancing our strategic interests, the strategic interest of the United States, upholding the international rules-based order, and promoting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at her daily news conference on Thursday.

Psaki was responding to a question on the Chinese reaction to the alliance. China on Thursday sharply criticised the trilateral alliance, saying such grouping has no future and will gravely undermine regional stability and aggravate the arms race and hurt international non-proliferation efforts.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: "To form an exclusive and closed clique or small group goes against the trend of the times and the aspiration of regional countries.

"The relevant countries should abandon the obsolete Cold War zero-sum mentality and narrow-minded geopolitical concept, respect regional people's aspirations and do more things conducive to regional peace, stability and development," Zhao said.

"I would note that the United Kingdom and Australia also have a long history as the United States of upholding the international rules-based order," Psaki said.

"So, our hope is that the three countries who have consistently worked with regional supporters to support a secure and stable, and peaceful Indo-Pacific can now work together to do exactly that. As it relates to China, we welcome stiff competition with the People's Republic of China (PRC)," she said.

"We do not seek conflict. Obviously, the president spoke with President Xi just a few days ago, and certainly, we are committed to maintaining an open high-level dialogue between the leaders," Psaki said.

France, an ally of the United States, has also expressed its outrage at the AUKUS alliance.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian reportedly expressed total incomprehension at the announcement of the initiative, terming it really a stab in the back and an initiative that looks a lot like what Trump did.

"I would first say that we value our relationship and our partnership with France on a variety of issues facing the global community, whether it's economic growth or whether it's the fight against COVID, or addressing security throughout the world. That has been a longstanding partnership for many, many years," Psaki said.

France will lose a nearly $100 billion deal to build diesel submarines for Australia under the terms of the new AUKUS initiative, which will see the US and UK help Australia construct nuclear-powered ones.

"I would leave it, of course, to our Australian partners to describe why they sought this new technology, and why they pursued this technology from the United States. As you know, part of their issue is that there was a purchase of technology that Australia had made with the French, but we'll let Australia speak to that and why they or why they purchased this technology," Psaki said.

"We cooperate closely with France. As the president said yesterday, we have a range of shared priorities in the Indo-Pacific, and that will certainly continue. We don't see this from our end as a regional divide. We see these as areas and security issues that we want to take on together," Psaki said.

Responding to a question, Psaki said that the United States government's focus is on what steps it can take to increase security in the Indo-Pacific.

There is a range of countries that could pose a threat and we'll let an outside analysis give their analysis, she said.

The announcement of AUKUS has come a week before a meeting of Quad leaders to be hosted by US president Biden in Washington on 24 September. The meeting will also be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, prime minister of Australia Morrison and Japanese premier Yoshihide Suga.

Australian PM rejects China's criticism

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected Chinese criticism of Australia's new nuclear submarine alliance with the United States and said he doesn't mind that President Joe Biden might have forgotten his name.

Morrison said Australia wanted to boost peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

"Everything we've done with the United States is consistent with the partnerships and relationships and alliances we've already had with the United States," Morrison told Radio 3AW.

Morrison also laughed off what some have described as an awkward exchange with Biden that undermined Australia's significance to the United States.

"Usually when we speak privately, he refers to me as pal," Morrison told the Seven Network.

Morrison said he and the US president enjoyed a great working relationship.

"Oh, I didn't pay much attention to it. I mean, these things happen. They happen frequently," Morrison told Nine Network.

"From time to time, you know, I've been known to let the odd name slip from my memory -- that's pretty normal in our line of work, I've got to be honest," he added.

Morrison said he referred to Biden as "Mr President" or "mate" in private conversations.

Morrison will visit the United States next week for the first time since Biden became president. The pair will be joined by the leaders of India and Japan for a meeting of the Quad security dialogue.

Inputs from agencies

Also See: Australians squirm as Joe Biden calls Australian PM 'that fellow down under'

Joe Biden announces Indo-Pacific alliance AUKUS with UK, Australia ahead of Quad summit

AUKUS is a big deal in Indo-Pacific architecture, and it will complement, not diminish the importance of Quad

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