The new trilateral security alliance AUKUS is not about any one country but aimed at advancing the strategic interests of the US, Britain and Australia and upholding the international rules-based order while promoting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, the White House has said amidst criticism against the pact from China.
The US, Britain and Australia on Wednesday announced the AUKUS alliance for the Indo-Pacific to take on the threats of the 21st century and allow for greater sharing of defence capabilities, including help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines for the first time, in a bid to counter China's growing power in the strategically vital region.
Unveiling the ambitious security initiative virtually, US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison in a joint statement said their move will promote stability in the Indo-Pacific and support of their shared values and interests.
"This partnership announced yesterday is not about any one country. This is about advancing our strategic interests, the strategic interest of the United States, upholding the international rules-based order, and promoting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at her daily news conference on Thursday.
Psaki was responding to a question on the angry Chinese reaction to the alliance. China on Thursday sharply criticised the trilateral alliance, saying such grouping has no future and will gravely undermine regional stability and aggravate the arms race and hurt international non-proliferation efforts.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: "To form an exclusive and closed clique or small group goes against the trend of the times and the aspiration of regional countries".
The relevant countries should abandon the obsolete Cold War zero-sum mentality and narrow-minded geopolitical concept, respect regional people's aspirations and do more things conducive to regional peace, stability and development, Zhao said.
But the move angered France, an European ally of the US, which said it had been "stabbed in the back".
But in Washington officials have defended multi-billion defence deal to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.
"I would note that the United Kingdom and Australia also have a long history as the United States of upholding the international rules-based order," Psaki said.
"So, our hope is that the three countries who have consistently worked with regional supporters to support a secure and stable, and peaceful Indo-Pacific can now work together to do exactly that. As it relates to China, we welcome stiff competition with the PRC (People's Republic of China)," she said.
"We do not seek conflict. Obviously, the president spoke with President Xi (Jinping) just a few days ago, and certainly, we are committed to maintaining an open high-level dialogue between the leaders," Psaki said.
France, an ally of the United States, has publicly expressed its outrage at the AUKUS alliance.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian reportedly expressed "total incomprehension" at the announcement of the initiative, terming it "really a stab in the back" and an initiative that "looks a lot like what Trump did." Le Drian also released a joint statement with French Armed Forces Minister Florency Parly on Wednesday, saying, "The American choice to exclude a European ally and partner such as France from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, whether in terms of our values or in terms of respect for multilateralism based on the rule of law, shows a lack of coherence that France can only note and regret." French officials have also scrapped an upcoming reception at the French Embassy in Washington, and toned down celebrations to commemorate a a Revolutionary War naval victory by the French that helped the US to win its independence.
France will lose a nearly USD 100 billion deal to build diesel submarines for Australia under the terms of the new AUKUS initiative, which will see the US and UK help Australia construct nuclear-powered ones.
Australia's Defence Minister Peter Dutton said in a news conference on Thursday that the decision to choose the American nuclear-powered submarine over France's conventional diesel submarine "is based on what is in the best interests of our national security." At the White House briefing, Psaki said the US valued its relationship with France.
"I would first say that we value our relationship and our partnership with France on a variety of issues facing the global community, whether it's economic growth or whether it's the fight against COVID, or addressing security throughout the world. That has been a longstanding partnership for many, many years," Psaki said.
"I would leave it, of course, to our Australian partners to describe why they sought this new technology, and why they pursued this technology from the United States. As you know, part of their issue is that there was a purchase of technology that Australia had made with the French, but we'll let Australia speak to that and why they or why they purchased this technology," Psaki said.
"We cooperate closely with France. As the president said yesterday, we have a range of shared priorities in the Indo-Pacific, and that will certainly continue. We don't see this from our end as a regional divide. We see these as areas and security issues that we want to take on together," Psaki said, trying to placate Paris.
Responding to a question, Psaki said that the United States government's focus is on what steps it can take to increase security in the Indo-Pacific.
"There is a range of countries that could pose a threat and we'll let an outside analysis give their analysis," she said.
The announcement of AUKUS has come a week before a meeting of Quad leaders to be hosted by US President Biden in Washington on September 24. The meeting will also be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of Australia Morrison and Japanese premier Yoshihide Suga.
The evolving situation in the Indo-Pacific region in the wake of China's increasing military muscle-flexing has become a major talking point among leading global powers.
Beijing claims almost all of the 1.3 million square mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory. China has been building military bases on artificial islands in the region also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
China has built up and militarised many of the islands and reefs it controls in the region. Both maritime areas in the South and East China seas are stated to be rich in minerals, oil and other natural resources and are also vital to global trade.