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WASHINGTON/CANBERRA: The United States, Britain and Australia announced a new security partnership for the Indo-Pacific in a move hailed by regional allies but denounced by China as intensifying an arms race in the region.

Under the partnership, announced by President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the United States and Britain will provide Australia with the technology and capability to deploy nuclear-powered submarines.

The United States and its allies are looking for ways to push back against China’s growing power and influence, particularly its military buildup, pressure on Taiwan and deployments in the contested South China Sea.

The three western leaders did not mention China by name in Wednesday’s announcement and senior Biden administration officials, who briefed reporters ahead of time, said the partnership was not aimed at countering Beijing.

However, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the trio were “severely damaging regional peace and stability, intensifying an arms race, and damaging international nuclear non-proliferation efforts”.

Countries should not build partnerships that target third countries, he told a regular briefing in Beijing on Thursday.

“China will closely watch the situation’s development.”

In a three-way virtual announcement, the leaders stressed Australia will not be fielding nuclear weapons but using nuclear propulsion systems for the vessels, to guard against threats. “We all recognize the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term,” said Biden. “We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region, and how it may evolve because the future of each of our nations and indeed the world depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead,” he said.

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