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The International Atomic Energy Agency has been discussing safeguards with the Aukus countries. Photo: Reuters

China protests to International Atomic Energy Agency over Aukus nuclear safeguards

  • Beijing’s representative Wang Qun complains that a recent report made misleading conclusions about the risk of nuclear proliferation
  • The three-way security pact will see Australia acquiring nuclear-powered submarines from Britain and the US
China has lodged a strong protest with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) urging the nuclear watchdog not to back Australia’s plans to acquire nuclear-powered submarines through the Aukus pact with the United States and Britain.

“[The IAEA director general] should not go in the wrong direction, let alone down the dangerous path, in endorsing the nuclear proliferation acts of these three countries,” Wang Qun, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations and other international organisations in Vienna, said on Monday.

Aukus cooperation on hypersonic weapons will step up arms race: Beijing

“The IAEA, as a non-proliferation agency, would directly violate its own statute and the Non-Proliferation Treaty if it endorses the legality of the Aukus countries’ proliferation activities,” he said.

Wang was commenting on the IAEA director general Rafael Mariano Grossi’s report on the agency’s Aukus safeguards, which were issued on September 9 and made available to its member states but not publicly disclosed.

Wang accused Grossi of overstepping his authority and said the report made misleading conclusions about the submarine deal and whether it constituted a violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“That was neither compliant nor legal. It is absurd,” Wang said.

Last September Australia decided to acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines from the US and Britain as part of the trilateral security pact to counter China’s growing military power in the region.

China reacted strongly to the deal and condemned it as damaging to regional peace and stability and international non-proliferation efforts.

It said there was a serious nuclear proliferation risk as the submarine deal could see Britain and the US sharing technology and material such as highly enriched uranium that could be applied to nuclear arms with Australia, which is a non-nuclear weapons state.

Beijing has repeatedly called on the IAEA to step in and discuss the issues regarding the transfer, safeguard and supervision of nuclear materials in the deal, and said the project should not go ahead until all members of the agency agree.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said on Tuesday: “Before consensus is reached by all parties, the US, the UK and Australia should not proceed with relevant cooperation, and the IAEA secretariat should not have consultation with the three countries on the so-called safeguards and monitoring arrangements for their nuclear submarine cooperation.”

Why China should worry about new Australian nuclear sub base

In June, the IAEA set up a special formal agenda and Grossi met the Aukus countries, followed by four further technical meetings between the three parties and the IAEA secretariat’s team.

When presenting his report to the IAEA board on Monday, Grossi said he welcomed the engagement from Aukus and emphasised that the IAEA will uphold the non-proliferation mandate as its guiding principle.

But Wang said Grossi’s report “lopsidedly” cited the accounts given by the US, Britain and Australia and made no mention of the other member countries’ concerns over the risk of nuclear proliferation.

“The IAEA chief cannot override the agency’s member states and undertake activities without due mandates from the member states; cannot engage in nuclear proliferation or activities that advance military purposes; cannot be reduced to a political tool of the Aukus countries and be used to make misleading conclusions; and cannot ignore the subordinate status of the IAEA comprehensive safeguards agreements vis-à-vis the NPT,” he said.