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'Immature': Dutton slams China reaction to AUKUS submarine deal

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Defence Minister Peter Dutton says China’s reaction to Australia’s nuclear-powered submarine ambition is embarrassing and immature.

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Dutton launched a counterattack after a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman labelled the pact extremely irresponsible.

“Frankly, I think they make the case for us,” he told Sky News from the US.

“Their comments are counterproductive and immature, and frankly embarrassing.”

The new AUKUS pact will allow the UK and US to share top secret nuclear-propulsion technology for a fleet of at least eight submarines.

Construction is expected to start later this decade and the first boats in the water before 2040.

China foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijan said the decision intensified the arms race and undermined international non-proliferation agreements.

“The export of highly sensitive nuclear submarine technology to Australia by the US and the UK proves once again that they are using nuclear exports as a tool for geopolitical game and adopting double standards,” he said.

“This is extremely irresponsible.”

Zhao said he was not aware of an open invitation Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had extended to Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss the arrangement.

But the foreign ministry official said Australia, the UK and US should abandon a “Cold War zero-sum mentality” and do more for regional peace.

“Otherwise, they will only end up shooting themselves in the foot.”

Morrison said the ambition for nuclear submarines was about responding to significant changes in the world.

“We’re just taking the necessary actions that we need to take to keep Australia safe, to have a peaceful and stable region in which we live,” he told the Seven Network.

The prime minister said Australia would continue to stand up for what it believed in despite the threat of more Chinese retaliation.

Later, on 3AW, he insisted Australia did not have to choose between the US and China.

“Everything we’ve done with the United States is consistent with the partnerships and relationships and alliances we’ve already had with the United States,” he said.

The decision to scrap a $90 billion deal with a French company for 12 conventionally powered submarines has also angered the government in Paris.

Dutton made no apology for the nuclear switch.

“We are a much safer country now because of this decision, and we will work with the French,” he told the Nine Network.

“We understand their disappointment, but my job is to make sure that we keep our country safe.”

Morrison said the decision was solely driven by what the strategic circumstances required.

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