Nuclear Submarine Pact Could Deter China From Taiwan Attack: US Official

A top official for the U.S. Department of State (DOS) suggested that the submarine project between the United States, Australia and Britain could help discourage Chinese attacks against Taiwan.

DOS Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell discussed the project, which is called AUKUS and involves helping Australia develop a fleet of nuclear-powered attack submarines, during an event on Wednesday.

Campbell, speaking during a virtual event hosted by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), said that the new submarine capabilities would strengthen peace and stability, including in the strait that separates China and Taiwan.

“I think that balance, that additional capacity, will help strengthen deterrence more generally, I think those practical circumstances of which AUKUS has the potential to have submarines from a number of countries operating in close coordination,” Campbell said.

The U.S. diplomat continued: “Those have enormous implications in a variety of scenarios, including cross strait circumstances. So I think I would argue that working closely with other nations, not just diplomatically but defense avenues, has the consequences of strengthening peace and stability.”

Officials from the three countries have been hesitant to publicly tie the submarine project to mounting tensions between China and Taiwan, making Campbell’s comments rare insight.

Newsweek reached out via email on Wednesday to representatives for the Biden administration, Department of State and the Chinese Foreign Ministry for comment.

Campbell on AUKUS and Taiwan
The deck of U.S. Ballistic Missile Submarine USS Kentucky is shown on July 19, 2023. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said on Wednesday that the AUKUS submarine project between Australia, Britain and the…

Woohae Cho/Getty

When the trilateral security partnership between the U.S., Britain and Australia was announced in 2021, Chinese officials responded with heavy criticism. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the pact’s announcement that the decision of the three governments to cooperate on Australia’s nuclear-powered submarine program “undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race.” China accused AUKUS of pointedly targeting Beijing and its growing military capabilities.

Despite Beijing’s backlash, Biden administration officials said the partnership was “not aimed or about any one country.” President Joe Biden also praised the pact, saying that the three countries had taken the “historic step” to formalize their alliance in recognition of “the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term.”

China views Taiwan as part of Chinese territory and has vowed to eventually unify it with the mainland, including through the use of force. The ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing has never ruled there, and the democratically elected government in Taipei rejects the long-running sovereignty claim.

“Taiwan is China’s Taiwan, and there is no such thing as ‘forbidden and restricted waters’ in the Xiamen-Kinmen waters,” Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Colonel Wu Qian said at a press briefing last week.

In recent weeks, tensions between China and Taiwan have escalated.

Kinmen, an archipelago across the Taiwan Strait that Taiwan administers as an outlying county, is close enough to be seen with the naked eye from the Chinese port city of Xiamen. Kinmen—which was shelled by Communist forces during the Cold War and remains heavily fortified—has been the focal point of renewed cross-strait tensions.

In February, a Chinese fishing boat that had allegedly intruded into Taiwanese-claimed waters near Kinmen overturned while fleeing Taiwan’s coast guard, resulting in the deaths of two on board. Beijing denounced the incident, alleging harsh and unfair treatment of its citizens. Days later, China deployed its own coast guard to the area.