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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced a security partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom on Wednesday evening as the administration ramps up efforts to counter China's rising power.
One of the first U.S. moves as part of the agreement will be to assist Australia with the purchase of nuclear submarines, which offer more stealth capabilities, speed and range than traditional submarines, he said. Just a handful of countries, including China and Russia, have nuclear-powered submarines.
"This initiative is about making sure that each of us has the most modern capabilities we need to maneuver and defend against rapidly evolving threats," Biden said.
A senior administration official described the pact as “historic,” and said it would increase cooperation among the three nations on military defense, cyber threats and supply chain security in the Indo-Pacific region. The officials said the move wasn’t aimed at any one country, but Biden has pointed to China as one of the biggest national security threats facing the United States.
“The United States, Australia and the United Kingdom have long been faithful and capable partners and we are even closer today," Biden said. "Today we're taking another historic step to deepen and formalize cooperation among all three of our nations because we all recognize the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region over the long term."
Biden was joined virtually Wednesday by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping had a lengthy conversation by phone last week, their first call in at least seven months, in what the White House described as a “candid” conversation to discuss the “responsibility of both nations to ensure competition does not veer into conflict” between the world’s two most powerful nations.”
Xi told Biden that U.S. policy on China had caused serious difficulties for the two countries' relationship, according to a readout of the call published by Xinhua, China's state-run news agency. He said China and the U.S. should work to get their relationship back on the right track, and that both countries had agreed to maintain frequent contact and instruct their working-level teams to step up communications.
The world’s two largest economies have been at odds over a range of issues, including trade, human rights, and cybersecurity, with tensions exacerbated by the anti-China rhetoric of former President Donald Trump's administration.
Biden said the U.S. would work with Australia over the next 18 months to determine every element of the nuclear submarine acquisition process including the safe production and use of the submarines. The submarines are powered by a nuclear reactor and don't have the capability to fire nuclear weapons.
"Only a handful of countries possess nuclear-powered submarines, and it is a momentous decision for any nation to acquire this formidable capability," Johnson said.