In a significant strategic shift, an alliance – AUKUS – between Australia, the UK and the US was announced by US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and their Australian counterpart Scott Morrison on Wednesday. The pact, seen as an effort to counter China in the Indo-Pacific region, will enable the US and the UK to provide Australia with the technology to build nuclear powered submarines.
The sudden announcement has angered France, a US ally and NATO member, who said that it had been “stabbed in the back”.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that this deal was a real stab in the back from Australia. Pointing fingers at Biden, he added that this decision was taken without consultation with the allies and is reminiscent of his predecessor Donald Trump’s era.
While stressing his anger over the deal Drian stated that France won the contract to supply submarines to Australia two years ago, and that neither the US nor the UK had taken part in the tender process. This development, according to him, is a betrayal of trust.
With voices echoing from the European Union bloc criticising the AUKUS Pact, European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said, “The EU was not informed about this project or about this initiative and we are in contact with the said partners to find out more. And we will, of course, have to discuss this within the EU with our member states to assess the implications.”
The move to provide Australia with the technological advancements to safe-guard mutual interests in the Indo-Pacific in lieu of the international legal system has significantly angered China, whose expansionist policy in the South China Sea and other regions belonging to Taiwan and Hong Kong has been facing vocal criticism around the globe. China has branded this deal to be a display of “cold war mentality”. The pact has also raised fears that it could provoke China into initiating a war.
The pact between the US, the UK and Australia is aimed to protect and defend shared interests in the Indo-Pacific region. While none of these three powers have mentioned China, the new partnership is being viewed as a counter-weight to Beijing’s assertiveness in the region.
Biden, during a joint press conference, said that the three leaders “recognise the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term”. He stated, “We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and how it may evolve.” Biden also singled out France for its substantial Indo-Pacific presence and for being a key partner and ally in strengthening the security and prosperity of the region. “The United States looks forward to working closely with France and other key countries as we go forward,” he added.
It is critical here to examine the fact that this development comes a month after the US’ withdrawal from Afghanistan that resulted in the fall of Kabul into the hands of the hardliner Islamist group, the Taliban. Beijing while reiterating its stand on maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, criticised the pact, arguing that it “severely undermines regional stability and peace, intensifies arms race and undercuts international non-proliferation efforts”.
“It’s highly irresponsible and shows double standards on using nuclear export for geopolitical games,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Lijian Zhao.
As per the prevailing geo-political situations America, Australia, India, the EU, the US, and the UK, along with the nations bordering the South China Sea, accuse Beijing of promoting and implementing an expansionist policy with the use of force and domination. China, considered to be the strongest rival of the US by most experts, denies these allegations and calls them fraudulent and politically motivated.
What Does The AUKUS Agreement Involve?
Announcing the termination of a previous $90 billion (US$65.88 billion) contract with France’s Naval Group for the construction of 12 conventional submarines, the Australian PM said, “We intend to build these submarines in Adelaide, Australia in close cooperation with the United Kingdom and the United States. But let me be clear: Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability and we will continue of meet all our nuclear non-proliferation obligations.”
The agreement involves the sharing of information and technology in a number of areas including intelligence and quantum technology as well as the acquisition of cruise missiles, but the inclusion of submarines in the pact is the key feature that has raised concerns for Beijing.
It is being reported that at least eight submarines will be provided, although it’s not clear when they will be deployed. With this development, Australia will become the seventh nation in the world to have nuclear submarines.
China On The Geo-Political Radar
US President Joe Biden spoke to his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping on a phone call for 90 minutes, amid the growing frustration on the American side that high-level engagement between the two leaders’ top advisers has been largely unfruitful. Following this, Jinping reported to the Chinese media that he has expressed China’s concerns that the US government’s policy towards China has caused “serious difficulties” in relations.
With the exit of the US forces from Afghanistan that resulted in the rise of the Taliban, the Chinese became the first to express their willingness to build a relationship with the insurgent group. This has raised significant concerns in India, the US, and the EU bloc, adding to the accusations on China for its gross human rights violations in the Xinjiang region, and its expansionist agenda with the use of force and threats in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea. This is addition to Jinping’s reluctance over finding the origin of COVID-19 in the country.
President Biden is also set to host fellow QUAD leaders – Australia, India and Japan – at the White House next week. The QUAD is a strategic group formed to counter China’s rise in the Indo-Pacific region, which China accuses of being a military group targeting the country.
With the installation of nuclear submarines in Australia, further advancements in the QUAD’s diplomacy, and other initiatives that focus on the importance of a peaceful and safe Indo-Pacific, the world leaders seem to be divided in different blocks, with China emerging as the biggest threat in the region.