China has hit out at the US, UK and Australia over their pact to create new nuclear-powered submarines, saying they have “gone further down a dangerous road”.

It follows Rishi Sunak meeting US President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in San Diego to announce the next stage of the Aukus partnership plan.

The plan will deliver nuclear-powered submarines to Australia as it seeks to counter Chinese activities in the Pacific Ocean.

China’s foreign ministry said the three countries had “disregarded” concerns of the international community, Reuters news agency reported.

Spokesperson Wang Wenbin made the comments at a regular news briefing when asked about the deal.

He added China and the US were maintaining necessary communications: “We believe that the value and significance of communication is to enhance understanding, manage differences, not for the sake of communication.”

The three nations have insisted the pact does not increase the risk of nuclear proliferation. The vessels will carry conventional weapons and the nuclear reactors will be sealed shut.

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Why is Rishi Sunak in San Diego?

Mr Sunak said the UK, US and Australia would work together “keeping our oceans free” with a new generation of nuclear-powered attack submarines.

“For the first time ever, it will mean three fleets of submarines working together across both the Atlantic and Pacific, keeping our oceans free, open, and prosperous for decades to come,” the British prime minister said.

The Aukus partnership was first announced in 2021. Since then, the UK has published its integrated review of foreign and security policy, which highlights China’s “more aggressive stance”.

President Biden said the US could ask for “no better partners” than the UK and Australia when it came to ensuring the security of the Pacific.

Asked if he was worried China would see the AUKUS submarine deal as aggression, Mr Biden replied: “No.” He said he expected to speak to Chinese leader Xi Jinping soon, but did not say when.

He had said last month that he expected to speak with his Chinese counterpart about a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that flew through American airspace, worsening already tense relations between the two countries.

First spotted by the US on 28 January, its military eventually shot the balloon down on 4 February off the coast of South Carolina on the orders of President Biden.

It had reportedly flown over a number of sensitive military sites.

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