AUKUS, identification keyword

Saturday, 2022-02-05 11:37:14
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CPTPP members meet in London in October 2020. (Photo: NIKKEI)
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NDO - If there is a keyword to identify the most prominent feature of the international political situation in 2021, that word is “AUKUS”.

Sensational content

It will take more years for the world to fully assess the influence of the Australia-UK-US trilateral security partnership agreement (AUKUS) which was suddenly announced by leaders of the three countries in September 2021. The multi-dimensional reactions and moves based on the birth of this agreement are enough to make “AUKUS” a hot political keyword in 2021 in addition to the deadly keyword of COVID-19.

AUKUS was born to shock the world in 2021 because of its sensational content. For the first time in 63 years since the agreement to share nuclear technology with the UK in 1958, the US will share nuclear technology with another country, namely Australia.

The AUKUS agreement caused feelings of shock, concern, indignation and joy for many sides because it seemed to reveal the strategic calculations of many countries about a key geostrategic space for the entire world, at least for the next few decades: the Indo-Pacific region.

The overarching goal of US strategies related to the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific is to compete with China, which has been Washington's strategic partner since the historical agreement (and compromise) between China and America in 1972 under US President Richard Nixon.

Reform and opening its doors has helped China's economy to develop rapidly for several consecutive decades. Economic potential coupled with defence power caused Beijing to begin to change the way it viewed its own position on the world map.

100 years of being considered by the West as an “East Asian sick man” with a sense of being bullied and enslaved has given Chinese leaders the determination to realise the “Chinese dream” and national rejuvenation. The shirt of a regional power is too tight for the world's second-largest economy after the US.

Meanwhile, the United States, with two prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a President who always chanted a mantra “America First” along with its new economic and political isolationism, seems to be on a downward trend! The “Thucydides Trap” opened, inviting the two opponents to enter the fierce competition that, along with the growth of Russia, has been seen as Cold War 2.0.

Conditional transfer

Since entering the White House in early 2021, Joe Biden has continued his strategy of competing with the emerging rival, but he is determined to “fix” the foreign policy of his predecessor by re-establishing or even creating new alliances to form a “Great Wall” to thwart China's rise.

The birth of AUKUS is part of that strategy, bringing “America back” to the Indo-Pacific region in the form of alliances.

AUKUS shows that the US under Joe Biden’s leadership is ready to reverse a fundamental policy of nuclear non-proliferation and deliver this sensitive technology to its Australian partner in order to achieve the long-term and strategic goal of containing China. Surely it must be a conditional transfer to eliminate the risk that the technology might get lost somewhere else.

It also does not exclude the possibility that this is a premise for Washington to continue implementing a policy of conditional transfer to an ally or partner if it meets geopolitical goals in a strategic space important to America. The reversal of the US’s nuclear policy under Joe Biden’s administration through AUKUS also shows that the US is willing to sacrifice short-term interests, even with close allies like France, to achieve long-term strategic goals.

Through AUKUS, the US also wants to convey the message of its assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific strategic space.

The shift of London

AUKUS also marks a shift of Britain's strategic focus to the Indo-Pacific region with the publication of a report on Global Britain in a Competitive Age and dispatching the UK’s Carrier Strike Group led by HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Indo-Pacific region. The UK also officially applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

It demonstrates that Britain's Indo-Pacific strategy is no longer in the conception stage but has been implemented in practice. Despite the geographical distance, the UK has affirmed that it wants to increase its presence in this region both in terms of setting up structures, institutions, economics and trade as well as science and technology, diplomacy, transportation, climate change, environmental protection and security.

And no one forgets that Britain is a long-time and staunch ally of the US. Through AUKUS, the UK strengthens its special relationship with the US and expands its strategic space from Europe-Pacific to the Indo-Pacific, considering China as a competitor and affirming its ambition as a major power in the post-Brexit era.

The third “player”

The third “player” in AUKUS is Australia, which suddenly emerged as an increasingly prominent element in the Indo-Pacific security fabric.

By participating in a tripartite enhanced security agreement, Australia and the US are present in the two most important security structures in the Indo-Pacific region, namely AUKUS and the Quad (including the US, Australia, Japan and India).

The Quad is a regional security structure revived and strengthened by the Biden administration with joint military exercises among its members and the elevation of meetings from ministerial level to summit level.

Greater involvement in regional security structures such as AUKUS reflects Canberra's growing anxiety over moves in the East Sea (South China Sea) region as well as tensions with Beijing around the identification of the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ban of Huawei from participating in the development of 5G network. China's retaliatory measures to reduce imports of Australian goods caused Australian businesses loss tens of billions of US dollars in 2021.

Joining AUKUS, Australian nuclear-powered submarines can operate as a deterrent to China in the Indo-Pacific region in the future within the framework of an allied strategy and this will certainly make it difficult for China to conduct naval activities in this area.

Attacking the “gap” in the CPTPP

In addition to condemning the formation of AUKUS as “irresponsible” action and threatening that Australia could become the target of a nuclear attack, China officially applied to join the CPTPP just a day after the US, UK and Australia announced the establishment of AUKUS.

This is the successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) that the US negotiators worked hard to build and play a key role in the negotiations. In early 2017, the US under President Donald Trump withdrew from this agreement, leaving a vast void in the Indo-Pacific strategy, at least in the realm of economics.

After entering the White House, President Joe Biden had yet to decide whether to bring the US back to negotiations to join the CPTPP or not, China officially applied to join the agreement.

Of course, the path for China to join the CPTPP is not easy because of the gap between the standard provisions of the CPTPP and China's domestic trade practices. However, history has proven that China is capable of managing the requirements of the CPTPP.

A new round of competition in the US-China trade arena has begun.