In San Diego, Biden announces submarine deal
Sale: President says Australia will purchase nuclear-powered craft in move to counter China.
By Staff Writer Reports
President Joe Biden, center, meets with Prime Minister of Australia Anthony Albanese, left, and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego on Monday as part of talks on AUKUS, a trilateral security pact between Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. STEFAN ROUSSEAU — POOL VIA AP
President Joe Biden, whose brief West Coast swing will take him to Monterey Park today, huddled with the leaders of Australia and the United Kingdom in San Diego on Monday to announce that Australia will purchase nuclear-powered attack submarines from the U.S. to modernize its fleet amid growing concern about China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific.
On Monday, Biden flew to California for talks with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on an 18-month-old nuclear partnership.
Biden will fly into LAX today, then motorcade to Monterey Park, site of the Lunar New Year dance hall shooting, to discuss his efforts to reduce gun violence.
The Star Ballroom Dance Studio attack left 11 dead when a gunman opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol. The suspected gunman killed himself as police closed in on him hours later in Torrance.
Biden described the Jan. 21 mass shooting during his State of the Union address Feb. 7, calling for a ban on assault weapons. The president also saluted Brandon Tsay, who wrestled a gun away from the shooter and likely prevented a second tragedy from occurring in nearby Alhambra. Tsay was among the guests in first lady Jill Biden’s viewing box for the president’s address to Congress.
“We are looking forward to the president’s visit,” said Monterey Park City Councilmember Thomas Wong. “It will help in recovery and with other members of the cabinet that are to come, they will be listening to the community and learn what the needs of the city are and resources also needed.”
The goal, he said, is to make change so “that this doesn’t happen again.”
Sen. Alex Padilla, Rep. Judy Chu and state Sen. Susan Rubio are among the officials who are expected to join the president.
“I was the one who asked him to come to Monterey Park,” Chu said on Monday. “I was so grateful when he finally scheduled this trip. I will be speaking tomorrow before he speaks, and I will also be visiting the families with him.”
The trip will be Biden’s first to the Los Angeles area since Oct. 12-14, when he visited a Metro construction site, spoke at a political fundraiser and appeared at Irvine Valley College.
In San Diego on Monday, the president shared details on an 18-month-old nuclear partnership given the acronym AUKUS — for Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The partnership, announced in 2021, enables Australia to access nuclear-powered submarines, which are stealthier and more capable than conventionally powered vessels, as a counterweight to China’s military buildup.
Biden. Photo by EVAN VUCCI — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Biden, appearing sensitive to tensions with China and its criticism of the deal, stressed that the submarines are “nuclear powered, not nuclear armed.”
“These boats will not have any nuclear weapons of any kind of them,” he said at an outdoor ceremony at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, where he was flanked by Albanese and Sunak. Two submarines, the USS Missouri and the USS Charlotte, were tied up at the next pier in the Pacific Ocean behind the leaders.
Albanese said the agreement “represents the biggest single investment in Australia’s defense capability in all of our history.” It’s also the first time in 65 years that the U.S. has shared its nuclear propulsion technology,” and we thank you for it,” he said.
Sunak called AUKUS “the most significant multilateral defense partnership in generations.” He said the U.K. also will share its 60 years of experience running its own submarine fleet with Australian engineers “so they can build their own fleet.”
In a joint statement before the formal announcement, the leaders said their countries have worked for decades to sustain peace, stability and prosperity around the world, including in the Indo-Pacific.
“We believe in a world that protects freedom and respects human rights, the rule of law, the independence of sovereign states, and the rules-based international order,” they said in the statement, released before their joint appearance in San Diego. “The steps we are announcing today will help us to advance these mutually beneficial objectives in the decades to come.”
San Diego is Biden’s first stop on a three-day trip to California and Nevada. He will discuss gun violence prevention in Monterey Park and his plans to lower prescription drug costs in Las Vegas. The trip will include fundraising stops as Biden steps up his political activity before an expected reelection announcement next month.
Australia is buying three, and possibly up to five, Virginia-class boats as part of AUKUS. A future generation of submarines will be built in the U.K. and in Australia with U.S. technology and support.
The U.S. will also increase its port visits in Australia to provide it with more familiarity with the nuclear-powered technology before it has such subs of its own. The USS Asheville was docked in Perth, Australia, on Monday, Biden said.
Biden also planned to meet individually with Albanese and Sunak, an opportunity to coordinate strategy on Russia’s war in Ukraine, the global economy and more.
The secretly brokered AUKUS deal included the Australian government’s cancellation of a $66 billion contract for a French-built fleet of conventional submarines, which sparked a diplomatic row within the Western alliance that took months to mend.
China has argued that the AUKUS deal violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It contends that the transfer of nuclear weapons materials from a nuclear-weapon state to anon-nuclear-weapon state is a “blatant” violation of the spirit of the pact. Australian officials have pushed back against the criticism, arguing that they are working to acquire nuclear-powered, not nuclear-armed, submarines.
“The question is really how does China choose to respond, because Australia is not backing away from what it — what it sees to be doing in its own interests here,” said Charles Edel, a senior adviser and Australia chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I think that probably from Beijing’s perspective, they’ve already counted out Australia as a wooable mid country. It seemed to have fully gone into the U.S. camp.”
The president’s daughter Ashley Biden and granddaughter Natalie Biden also traveled with him to San Diego.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.