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China continues to lay into Australia over its new defence pact with the US and UK which will see nuclear-powered submarines produced on home soil.
Beijing last week described the move as "extremely irresponsible" and warned of consequences while state media went even further, with the Communist Party of China's mouthpiece the Global Times saying if provoked "China will certainly punish [Australia] with no mercy" in military conflict.
And Beijing continues to let Prime Minister Scott Morrison it strongly rejects the AUKUS alliance, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Wednesday evening saying a raft of nations were justified in questioning Australia's intentions.
"The nuclear submarine cooperation between the US, the UK and Australia, which poses a serious risk of nuclear proliferation," he said.
"It also gives the international community every reason to question Australia's sincerity in complying with its nuclear non-proliferation obligations as a non-nuclear-weapon state party to the NPT (Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons)."
An unnamed senior Chinese military expert told the Global Times last week they believed it will now be "easy" for Australia to acquire nuclear weapons as a next step.
Mr Zhao said the uranium likely to be used in the Australian submarines will be "weapon-grade" nuclear material.
He accused Australia, the US and UK of "provoking an arms race", with the announcement "deliberately escalating regional tension".
China itself has embarked on an ambitious expansion of its military capabilities in recent years, including the production of nuclear-powered submarines.
Beijing has reacted angrily to recent comments from the Morrison government which it claims is unfairly hyping up the threat of China and potential military conflict in the Indo-Pacific.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton was singled out for his remarks suggesting China has become increasingly aggressive and coercive.
Ministry of National Defence spokesperson Wu Qian said Mr Dutton had "seriously poisoned" relations and it was evident Australia was "willingly serving as the pawn to the US" in a bid to stifle China.
Labor to stress importance of Australia's independence
It comes as Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong responds to criticism from former prime minister Paul Keating who questioned Labor's "muted" response to the deal.
In a speech to the United States Studies Centre on Thursday, Ms Wong will warn Australia must not sacrifice its independence with the deal, the ABC reported.
"With the prospect of a higher level of technological dependence on the US, how does the Morrison-Joyce government assure Australians that we can act alone when need be; that we have the autonomy to defend ourselves, however and whenever we need to," her speech reads.
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