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Blinken, Austin call out China’s “destabilizing” behavior at event on Australia security pact

Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin condemned China’s "aggressive" and "destabilizing" behavior at a press conference Thursday, as they inaugurated a major new trilateral security partnership with Australia and the U.K.

Why it matters: China was not explicitly mentioned in President Biden’s announcement of the AUKUS alliance, through which the U.S. and the U.K. will help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines as part of a broader effort to ensure "peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific." "I do want to just underscore very clearly this partnership is not aimed or about any one country," a senior Biden administration official said on a briefing call Wednesday to preview the announcement. Blinken and Austin both echoed that position during the Q&A portion of Thursday’s press conference.

But China’s military activities in the Pacific are viewed as a top security threat to the U.S., and the subtext of the new partnership is clear.

What they’re saying: "The world saw China’s aggressive response when Australia led calls for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19. Beijing has seen over the past months that Australia will not back down, and threats of economic retaliation and pressure will not work," Blinken said, as he stood by Austin and their Australian counterparts. "We spoke in detail about China’s destabilizing activities and Beijing’s effort to coerce and intimidate other countries, contrary to established rules and norms," Austin added.

"And while we seek a constructive, results-oriented relationship with the PRC, we will remain clear-eyed about Beijing’s efforts to undermine the established international order."

Responding to China’s condemnation of the announcement as indicative of a "Cold War mentality," Australia’s Defense Minister Peter Dutton said: "This is not the first time we’ve seen different outbursts from China in terms of Australia’s position."

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