UN Nuclear Watchdog’s Report on AUKUS ‘Lopsided,’ Beijing Claims

UN Nuclear Watchdog’s Report on AUKUS ‘Lopsided,’ Beijing Claims
In this handout image provided by the U.S. Navy, the nuclear-powered fast attack submarine USS Hartford is moored off the U.S, Naval Academy in 1999 in Annapolis, Maryland. (Don S. Montgomery/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)
Daniel Y. Teng

Beijing has panned the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog for the agency’s positive assessment of the progress of the AUKUS deal so far.

“The Agency, on the basis of technical consultations and exchanges it has conducted with the AUKUS parties to date, is satisfied with the level of their engagement,” according to a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Sept. 9 that was seen by Reuters.

“Such technical consultations will continue for the foreseeable future. The Agency recognises that AUKUS is at an early stage and that precisely how it will develop has yet to be decided by the parties involved.”

Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, called the report “lopsided,” saying it made no mention of the concern of nuclear proliferation from the international community.

Mao called for a “special committee” open to all member states of the IAEA to discuss the “political, legal, and technical issues” around AUKUS before submitting recommendations to the Agency. If a consensus isn’t reached, the AUKUS nations—the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia—shouldn’t proceed further.

Progress of AUKUS Steady

The AUKUS deal, signed off under then-Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, along with former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. President Joe Biden, will see Australia become one of the few nations in the world to sail nuclear-powered submarines.

The move will significantly alter the power balance in the Indo-Pacific region given only six countries in the world have access to nuclear-powered submarines—the U.S., UK, China, Russia, India, and France.

It’s largely viewed as a counterweight to Beijing’s ongoing aggression and militarisation in the region, including the building of bases in the South China Sea, incursions into Taiwanese airspace, and support of illegal fishing fleets.

Yet, several hurdles need to be overcome before Australia can acquire the submarines, including fulfilling IAEA safeguards that are designed to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weaponry.

The AUKUS deal falls in a grey area because IAEA regulations don’t cover the use of nuclear materials for naval propulsion.

Australian authorities have argued that any submarine would essentially be loaded with a sealed box containing the nuclear reactor, thus limiting the risk of proliferation, a view that’s been adopted by the IAEA.

Daniel Y. Teng is based in Brisbane, Australia. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected].
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