The United States, Australia and the United Kingdom on Wednesday announced the signing of an historic defense pact, including support for Australia in developing nuclear submarines, clearly with the aim of challenging China in the Indo-Pacific.
The three countries agreed to strengthen their mutual cooperation on advanced defense technologies, including artificial intelligence, submarine systems and long-distance monitoring.
Calling it an "historic" accord, a senior US official requesting anonymity told reporters in a conference call that "I do want to ... underscore very clearly this partnership is not aimed or about any one country. It's about advancing our strategic interests, upholding the international rules-based order and promoting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific."
President Joe Biden formally made the announcement in a statement to reporters at the White House flanked by two televisions on which Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also announced the pact live.
The US leader emphasized that the submarines that Australia will acquire will not be equipped with "nuclear weapons," but rather will be "conventionally armed" and yet powered by nuclear reactors.
Biden called such technology "proven" and "safe."
In that regard, the US official who spoke with journalists denied that Australia is going to be developing its own nuclear arsenal, saying that the submarines' use of nuclear energy is only for "propulsion."
With submarines of this kind, the official added, Australia's defense capabilities will be "much greater," since the vessels will have greater operational range and will enable Canberra to increase its cooperation with the US and other allies in the region.
Although neither Biden nor the US official explicitly mentioned China, there is a growing concern in the US over the increase in Beijing's military prowess in East Asia.
The announcement came a week before Biden on Sept. 24 welcomes the leaders of Australia, India and Japan to a summit at the White House, these nations being ones with which Washington maintains an alliance to counteract China's power and influence.
The four countries comprise the so-called "Quad," an alliance created in 2007 in response to Beijing's military rise.
Biden is set to welcome in person to the White House Australia's Morrison, Indian Prime Minister Narendra modi and Japan's premier, Yoshihide Suga.