“This is completely irresponsible behavior,” said Mr. zhao.
In Australia, the move was considered a momentous shift by some strategists. “Australia’s decision to go this way is not just a decision to go for a nuclear-powered submarine,” said Hugh White, a professor at the Australian National University and a former Australian defense official. “It is a decision to deepen and consolidate our strategic alignment with the United States against China.”
He added: “This only reinforces the sense that we have a new Cold War in Asia and that Australia is betting that in that new Cold War, the US will emerge victorious.”
The announcement is the latest move in a US strategy to curb China’s economic, military and technological expansion carried out by Mr. Biden; his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan; and its Asia coordinator, Kurt Campbell. In the past eight months, they have prevented China from acquiring key technologies, including materials for semiconductor manufacturing; urged countries to reject Huawei; towards closer relations with Taiwan; and denounced China’s crackdown on Hong Kong.
Next week, Mr. Biden will gather the leaders of “the Quad” – an informal partnership of the United States, Japan, India and Australia – at the White House for a face-to-face meeting, another way to show common determination in dealing with Beijing.
Mr Biden spoke with President Xi Jinping of China for about 90 minutes last week, only the second time the two leaders have spoken since Mr Biden took office. Few details of the conversation were revealed, so it’s unclear whether Mr Biden warned his Chinese colleague about the move with Australia. But none of that would have come as a surprise to Beijing; previously, the Australians had announced a deal with France for less technologically advanced submarines. That deal failed.
Nevertheless, the decision to share the naval reactor technology, even with a close ally, was an important step for Mr Biden — a decision that will no doubt spark protests from China and questions from US allies and non-proliferation experts. The United States last shared nuclear propulsion technology with an ally in 1958 in a similar agreement with Britain, government officials said.
“There is a shared understanding that we need to strengthen deterrence and actually be prepared to fight a conflict if one arises,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund, a policy think tank. . “It reflects growing concerns about China’s military capabilities and intentions.”