US, UK, Australia ink new military pact to contain China

Stronger engagements with India, Vietnam and Quad to continue, says US official; France regrets new alliance

US, UK, Australia ink new military pact to contain China

US President Joe Biden, listens as he is joined virtually by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, not seen, as he speaks about a national security initiative from the East Room of the White House in Washington, on September 15, 2021. — AP/PTI

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 16

Signalling a sharper security focus against China, the leaders of Australia, the UK, and the US jointly announced a deeper security alliance on transferring advanced technologies, including that of nuclear-powered submarines.

The partnership, called “AUKUS”, is about updating the existing alliances “to better meet the threats of today and tomorrow”, said US President Joe Biden in a virtual joint address with Australian and British PMs, Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson.

Australia’s building of a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines will occupy centre-stage but AUKUS will also share know-how in artificial intelligence, cyber, quantum, underwater systems, and long-range strike capabilities, including ballistic missiles.

So far, only six countries – US, Russia, China, France, Britain and India have nuclear-powered submarines. Faster and able to stay submerged longer than the diesel-powered versions, nuclear submarines are considered ideal for Taiwan Strait and South China Sea where China has the capability to engage all surface combatants.

France reacted with dismay to the announcement as it meant cancellation of talks for a $ 90 billion submarine contract with Australia. New Zealand, in keeping with its long-held policy, announced that it would not allow nuclear-powered submarines to enter its waters. China, which will be at the receiving end of these endeavours, asked the trio to “shake off their Cold War mentality”.

The announcement came a day before the European Union (EU) published its Indo-Pacific strategy.

The three countries – US, UK and Australia – are “Five Eyes” countries, a very closely knit intelligence-sharing group that also includes New Zealand and Canada. The IAEA said it was engaging with these countries in the coming months on installing adequate safeguards.

It is presumed that Australian Defence and Foreign Ministers may have hinted about the impending move during a recent meeting followed by phone calls with their Indian counterparts. Of the other two members of the Quad – Japan and India – the former has Constitutional constraints while the latter has a partnership with Russia.

“Quad stands on its own,” said MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi.

The trilateral is “part of a larger constellation of steps, including stronger bilateral partnerships with our traditional security partners in Asia – Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines – and also stronger engagements with new partners like India, Vietnam and new formations like the Quad,” said a US official.

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