AUKUS nuclear submarine pact raises proliferation concerns, says Chinese envoy

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Li Song

25th November 2023 – (Vienna) Chinese diplomat Li Song called for comprehensive intergovernmental deliberations within the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Friday, to address potential proliferation hazards posed by the AUKUS nuclear submarine agreement.

Mr Li, who serves as China’s permanent delegate to the IAEA, spoke at a meeting of the IAEA board of governors. He expressed concerns about the severe impact of the AUKUS pact on global security and, more specifically, the Asia-Pacific region. Mr Li suggested that the agreement poses significant challenges to both the international non-proliferation regime and the IAEA safeguards system.

The diplomat criticised the AUKUS pact, saying, “Such cooperation is contrary to the purpose and objectives of the NPT (the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) and exemplifies a double standard.”

The AUKUS alliance, announced in September 2021, comprises Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The trilateral agreement allows Australia to construct nuclear-powered submarines using technology provided by the US and the UK.

Mr Li emphasised that the AUKUS deal, which intertwines political, security, legal, and technical matters, sets a significant precedent and will likely influence the advancement and development of the IAEA safeguards system and relevant safeguard practices.

“All these are substantial matters that demand serious consideration, deep reflection, and proper handling by [the IAEA] member states,” Mr Li stated.

Mr Li pointed out that the evolution and enhancement of the IAEA safeguards system have historically been achieved through consensus-based, member-state-led processes that include broad participation from member states.

The Chinese diplomat underscored that the AUKUS agreement’s safeguards arrangements should not be exclusively interpreted and decided by the AUKUS countries and the IAEA Secretariat, until a consensus has been reached among IAEA member states.

“Member states possess the requisite wisdom, patience and determination to address the proliferation risks associated with the AUKUS pact through intergovernmental discussions,” Mr Li said.

During the IAEA board meeting, representatives from Russia, Egypt, Algeria, Pakistan, Iran, and Cuba echoed Mr Li’s call for further intergovernmental discussions on the AUKUS matter in future IAEA board meetings and general conferences.

The same representatives agreed that the AUKUS pact presents severe proliferation risks and should be addressed through an intergovernmental process involving the participation of member states, rather than being decided unilaterally by the AUKUS countries and the IAEA Secretariat.

Following the meeting, Mr Li urged the AUKUS countries to address the international community’s concerns and engage in dialogue and communication with all parties on the basis of equality and mutual respect.

China will persist in advancing intergovernmental discussion processes responsibly and defending the integrity and effectiveness of the international non-proliferation regime and the IAEA safeguards system, Mr Li concluded.