In a dramatic move that has created ripples in the region and the international strategic community, the US, UK and Australia have forged a trilateral security partnership that aims at bolstering defence and security cooperation among the three democracies of the Indo-Pacific region. The announcement of “AUKUS” seems to have been strategically timed ahead of the first in-person Quad summit of the leaders of India, US, Australia and Japan in Washington DC on September 24, and fuels the impression that the US is forging new plurilateral groupings with a view to containing China’s perceived aggression in the Indo-Pacific region.
The joint press statement issued by the governments of the US, UK and Australia says that the pact aims at strengthening defence and security cooperation for mutually beneficial purposes. The new trilateral security alliance seeks to help Australia build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines and deepen security cooperation in areas such as defense-related artificial intelligence and quantum computing, cyberwarfare, and underwater technologies.
France, an important resident power in the Indo-Pacific, has expressed dismay at being left out of an influential coalition like this. A statement by the French government highlighted massive French presence in the Indo-Pacific region and its value in the region. The French ship builder Naval Group shared its displeasure at Australia for reneging the contract and deciding to acquire the fleet of submarines from the US and UK. However, Australia cited regional security concerns as the reason behind opting for more than just conventional submarines. It is evident that the French will have to be appeased soon by the AUKUS countries.
Predictably, China has fulminated against the deal. Zhao Lijian, the spokesperson of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called the deal out for damaging international trust and peace. Mr Zhao tweeted about how exclusive and closed regional cooperation mechanisms disturbed the current global trend that required collaborations to promote global peace and security. According to some experts, the alliance is a direct challenge for Chinese ambitions of superiority in maritime as well as technical fields like cyber security and quantum computing. China has on several occasions criticized the division of the world into groups carried out by the western countries, and had criticized the Quad on similar lines.
India was informed, says Australian envoy
For India, a key member of the Quad, the formation of AUKUS bodes well as a regional military alliance like this will help constrain China’s ambitions without India being part of it. India has maintained a studious silence over the formation of AUKUS.
Australian High Commissioner Barry O’Farrell has clarified that Canberra had informed New Delhi at the highest levels of the new enhanced trilateral security partnership before it was formally announced. “We want to contribute to strategic reassurance measures that ensure no one country believes they can advance their strategic ambitions through conflict,” he told reporters in New Delhi.
“It’s not about seeking to provoke any particular regional power, rather it’s about ensuring we have the capabilities that contribute along with India and other countries to deterring the types of behaviour that threatens the peace and security in the Indo-Pacific today and in the future,” the envoy said. The leaders of India, US, Japan and Australia will participate in the first in-person Quad summit in Washington on September 24, which will focus on shaping a free and inclusive region against the backdrop of China’s assertiveness in the region.
(Shweta Aggarwal, Shubhra Chaturvedi contributed inputs for this article)
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