By Harvey Joyce
In a watershed global security moment, the UK, US and Australia have announced a historic security agreement in the Asia-Pacific region to counter China’s influence in the area.
The South China Sea region is highly contested. With an abundance of natural resources as well as trade routes worth trillions of dollars, many governments have a stake in the region. China dominates around 90% of the area as well as ignoring the protests of international courts and neighbouring islands that also claim territory. Breaking international law, China has been building artificial islands to use as military bases and to solidify control.
This new alliance, dubbed “AUKUS”, is to counter the Chinese influence in the region. The pact will involve the allies sharing artificial intelligence, cyber capabilities as well as other undersea technologies. The US and UK will also share expertise and technology with Australia for building nuclear-powered submarines, becoming the seventh country to do so.
Whilst this security deal strengthens some relationships, it alienates and sours others. First, France has felt ‘betrayed’ by this agreement, which has sabotaged a multibillion-dollar submarine deal they had previously signed with Australia. French ambassadors were subsequently recalled from the US in protest, fracturing Franco-American relations, which were previously strong. This will also become a pivotal topic in the upcoming French election, as this agreement will inevitably have strong domestic repercussions for President Macron.
Secondly, China railed against this deal. Chinese officials have accused the allied countries of having a “Cold War mentality” that hurts their own interests. President Xi said foreign powers should not be allowed to interfere in their domestic affairs.
America is dedicated to maintaining the freedom of navigation; thus, they have strengthened their military presence too, and have been investing in deals and relationships in the region with Japan, South Korea, and India. Having the submarines stationed in Australia will be vital to shoring up US influence in the region, according to experts.
This leaves many smaller island nations trapped in a battle between two superpowers, whilst struggling to defend their own national interests.
Boris Johnson has also been challenged by former Prime Minister Theresa May. She has warned that this agreement between the allies could lead Britain into being dragged into a territorial war with China over Taiwan.
Mr Johnson has reiterated that this agreement is to show that the UK government is determined to “defend international law” and that the AUKUS agreement is not intended “to be adversarial towards any other power”. The new deal will also generate “hundreds of high-skilled jobs”. It is clear Mr Johnson is keen to showcase Britain’s ‘special relationship’ and promote his Global Britain agenda.
China has become an impediment in many arrangements such as the “Five Eyes alliance” which is an intelligence-sharing group, involving the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. They recently suffered a setback earlier this year when New Zealand failed to follow in the condemnation of China’s treatment of its Uyghur population in Xinjiang. China has strong leverage over Australia and New Zealand as one of their biggest trading partners.
It’s clear that the “AUKUS” agreement will signal a paradigm shift in strategy and policy across the region. Whilst China’s “Cold War” rhetoric may sound imposing, the biggest foreseeable consequences of this agreement may harm trade stability, not security. With the UK set to enter an Asia-Pacific trade agreement (the CPTPP), Australasian trade with China as well as France’s bitterness with the US and UK, this agreement will add another obstacle to the precarious game of geopolitics and world trade.
Image: Thiago Isvamsinsk via Flickr.