A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson on Friday refuted a U.S. claim concerning Australia-U.K.-U.S. (AUKUS) trilateral nuclear submarine cooperation, urging the three not to go ahead with the cooperation and the Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Secretariat not to have consultation with the three countries on the so-called safeguards arrangements until consensus is reached by all parties.
It has been reported that a senior U.S. State Department official, who asked not to be named, said on Thursday the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) does not prohibit Australia from working with the United States and Britain to build nuclear-powered submarines.
The world can be absolutely certain that there is no diversion of uranium to a weapons program, the official reportedly said, noting that Australia plans to equip the submarines with conventional rather than nuclear weapons, and that it has made clear that it would "not build nuclear facilities on its territory that would contribute to a weapons capability."
Nuclear submarine cooperation under the AUKUS trilateral security partnership poses a serious risk of nuclear proliferation, and clearly violates the objective and purpose of the NPT, spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a press briefing.
He said the existing IAEA safeguards arrangement cannot effectively monitor the power reactors of nuclear submarines, therefore, there is no way to ensure that Australia won't divert these nuclear materials to the manufacturing of nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices.
"The United States claims the world can be certain that there is no diversion of uranium to a weapons program, but can just a verbal commitment dispel the doubts of the international community?" the spokesperson asked. He said that the United States previously promised Russia that it would not push forward NATO's eastward expansion, but everyone has seen how the United States broke that pledge.
Wang said AUKUS have fully exposed their "double standards," which are bound to have far-reaching negative impacts on the resolution of regional nuclear hotspot issues, and may ultimately lead to the collapse of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.
"If the United States can transfer weapons-grade nuclear materials to Australia, a non-nuclear-weapon state, what reason does it have to oppose the production of highly enriched uranium by other non-nuclear-weapon states?" Wang asked.
The IAEA Board of Governors in November added issues related to the trilateral nuclear submarine cooperation to its official agenda and held discussions, which reflected the serious concerns shared broadly by member states of the Board of Governors, Wang said.
"The United States claims that AUKUS would instead set 'a precedent of the highest possible level of safeguards' for any similar deals in the future. What qualifications do the three countries have to set standards for other countries?" Wang questioned.
Wang stressed that the safeguards issue regarding the AUKUS nuclear submarine cooperation bears on the integrity and efficacy of the IAEA and concerns the interests of all member states, and should be discussed by all IAEA member states. He said China has suggested that the IAEA should establish a special committee open to all member states to properly seek a solution acceptable to all parties.
"China maintains that, pending a consensus reached by all parties, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia should not go ahead with relevant cooperation and the Secretariat of the IAEA should not have consultation with the three countries on the so-called safeguards arrangement," the spokesperson said.