The United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom have announced a new trilateral security agreement in an obvious attempt to counter China’s influence in the region. The leaders of all three countries unveiled the alliance on Wednesday, which is being dubbed as the acronym AUKUS.
In a virtual meet, US President Joe Biden said that it was a “historic step” by the trio to deepen their cooperation.
Biden said, “We all recognise the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term. We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and how it may evolve because the future of each of our nations – and indeed the world – depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead.”
Biden was joined by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson but none of them explicitly mentioned China in their remarks.
The agreement will result in the Australian military adding nuclear-powered submarines to their fleet; however, the leaders stressed that the submarines would only be nuclear powered and will not carry nuclear weapons.
Following the announcement of AUKUS, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in the US said the three countries should “shake off their Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice.”
The spokesman branded AUKUS as “exclusionary blocs” saying such alliances should stop targeting the interests of other countries.
In his remarks, Australian Premier Morrison said the newly announced partnership would “deliver a safer and more secure region” and ultimately benefit all.
“Let me be clear: Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability and we will continue to meet all our nuclear non-proliferation obligations,” Morrison added.
Australian PM also added that Australia intends to build eight nuclear-powered submarines under the agreement.
The announcement of the alliance comes as China and the US along with its allies in the Asia Pacific vie for influence and control in the region, especially the maritime waters of the disputed South China Sea. China stakes its claim on almost the entire South China Sea despite rival claims by several other nations including Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia.
Australia has also seen its ties with China deteriorate sharply amid disputes over the coronavirus pandemic, trade and concern in Canberra about Chinese political influence operations.
During the past decade or so, China has built artificial islets in the South China Sea. These islets have been gradually turned into military outposts manned by the coast guards and maritime militia. Beijing also passed a law in January allowing the coast guard to fire on foreign vessels.
Tensions have been high across the Taiwan Strait amidst daily Chinese military aircraft activity along with the ever-intensifying arms race in the Korean Peninsula. Meanwhile, the US has been operating regular ‘freedom of navigation’ tours in the South China Sea and near Taiwan. In the same vein, the UK Navy recently held drills with the Japanese Navy last month involving the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Meanwhile, the US and Australia have also stepped up efforts to consolidate defence ties with the members of the so-called Quad; India and Japan. That quartet is due to meet next week in the US.