Boris Johnson has been challenged by his predecessor Theresa May on whether the newly signed Aukus defense pact between the UK, the US and Australia could lead to Britain being dragged into a war with China over Taiwan.
The intervention came during a Commons debate on the three-country agreement, under which the United States and the United Kingdom will share sensitive technology with Australia to enable it to develop its first nuclear-powered submarines.
The former British prime minister asked Johnson: “What are the implications of this pact for the position that the UK would take in its response if China tries to invade Taiwan?”
In response, the prime minister was careful not to rule anything out. “The UK remains determined to uphold international law and that is the strong advice we would give to our friends around the world, and the strong advice we would give to the government in Beijing,” he said.
Beijing has taken an increasingly aggressive stance toward Taipei, which has long received military support from the United States. Military demonstrations are frequent: This month China sent 19 aircraft, including several nuclear-capable bombers, to Taiwan’s “air defense identification zone” on the eve of the annual Taipei war games exercises.
The three Western partners have tried to downplay the impact of the Aukus deal on China, although nuclear-powered submarines will allow the Australian navy to match Beijing, with vessels capable of submerging for months.
China reacted critically overnight, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that he questioned Australia’s “commitment to nuclear non-proliferation” and accused the three countries of adopting an “outdated mindset of sum zero of the cold war “.
Johnson also told British MPs that the Aukus deal was not directed at the East Asian superpower, in response to a question from opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer.
The prime minister said: “He began by asking if it was in any sense contradictory to China and how we would handle the relationship with China, and I think it is important for the House to understand that Aukus does not intend to be an adversary with any other power.”
Starmer had asked: “What plan does the prime minister have to ensure that this new agreement increases rather than diminishes our ability to influence China?”
Other high-ranking deputies called for a more openly assertive stance. Tobias Ellwood, Conservative Chairman of the Defense Select Committee, said: “We must work with China but stand up to it. It is a more coordinated long-term strategy and challenging China’s growing hostile dominance in the South China Sea. “
Australia will become the seventh country to own nuclear-powered submarines, once the ships are built in the next decade or so, and the first country to do so that does not have its own nuclear weapons, processing or power program.
The Aukus partners intend to spend the next 18 months figuring out how to supply Australia with the nuclear reactors needed to power a submarine, which is expected to involve a combination of American and British technology. But it is unclear where the reactors will be built and where they will be dismantled.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism