In a move that could deepen a growing chasm in US-China relations, President Biden has announced on Wednesday that his country is forming a new Indo-Pacific security alliance with UK and Australia aimed at grater sharing of defense capabilities, The New York Times reports.
The new military alliance which will be called AUKUS is a new phase of trilateral security cooperation between the old allies whose future, as well as the future of the world, depends on the “free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead.
Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian PM Scott Morrison have announced the new military initiative appearing together virtually.
The first concrete step of the alliance will see the US and UK helping Australia to deploy nuclear-powered, but conventionally armed submarines, adding to the Western presence in the region. Australia is a signatory to the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) , which bans it from acquiring or deploying nuclear weapons.
That will enable Australia- which until recent years has been hesitant to push back directly at core Chinese interests- to begin conducting routine patrols through areas of the South China Sea as far north as Taiwan that Beijing claims as its exclusive zone and range.
If the AUKUS project delivers results, Australia will become the first country in the world with nuclear-powered subs but not weapons.
Biden said that AUKUS would be about expanding and maintaining military capabilities and critical technologies, making sure each nation has most modern capabilities.
Only a handful of countries – China, France, India, Russia, the US and the UK – possess nuclear-powered submarines at the moment and they also possess atomic weapons.
The militaries of the three countries will start the project with an 18-month consultation period involving also the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure full compliance with their obligations under the NPT.
China is likely to see the new security alliance as a provocative move since all the talk about the Indo-Pacific made it clear who the alliance was aimed against though a senior administration official tried to play down the idea that the alliance was meant to serve as a deterrent against China in the region.
The official stressed the alliance’s creation is about a larger effort to sustain engagement and deterrence in the Indo-Pacific by the three nations and is not aimed at any country. Even the introduction video touted AUKUS as an “alliance of maritime democracies” united in working for the good of the world using their democracy, resilience, innovations and diversity”.
Reacting to the new security pact, China’s Washington embassy said the three include countries should shake off their Cold-War mentality and ideological prejudice. The Embassy’s spokesperson Liu Pengyu stressed that countries should not crate exclusionary blocs targeting the interests of third parties.
The AUKUS partnership has also raised the ire of the French government since the deal means scrapping the $90 billion submarine contract that France won with Australia’s government in 2016.
Both French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defense Minister Florence Parly noted called the pact regrettable in the joint statement on Wednesday.
They said that the US choice to push aside France – European ally and partner- from a structural partnership with Australia in an atmosphere of unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region shows a lack of coherence.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, on the other side, defended Australia’s switch, underscoring that it is consistent with the decision taken back in 2016 for all the right reasons to protect Australia’s national security interests.
Australian closest neighbor’s Prime Minister, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, welcomed the upgraded focus on the region but noted that Australia’s new submarines wouldn’t be permitted in its territorial waters.