President Biden unveiled a new security alliance with Britain and Australia that could further heighten the tensions between the United States and China. The new deal calls for the sharing of defense capabilities that includes providing Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. Because it directly impacts the Pacific region, the arrangement is seen as being a direct response to China’s increasing global dominance.
Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison appeared together in a virtual press conference to discuss the Indo-Pacific alliance, which will officially be called AUKUS. ” President Biden certainly seemed to be referencing China when he discussed the importance of the deal with regards to global stability.
China is certain to be riled by this news, given that it is already upset that he has shifted the focus of U.S. foreign policy to the Pacific since he entered the White House. Relations between the two countries have deteriorated in months. Beijing officials are not happy Biden has criticized China for human rights abuses in Xianjing province, the crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong, and cybersecurity breaches traced back to China.
The Associated Press writes that a senior administration official tried to downplay the idea the alliance was a direct shot across the bow to China.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the announcement, said the alliance’s creation was not aimed at any one country, and is about a larger effort to sustain engagement and deterrence in the Indo-Pacific by the three nations.
The three countries have agreed to share information and technology involving artificial intelligence, cyber-tech and underwater defense capabilities. But it is the decision to support Australia acquiring nuclear-powered subs that may be the most significant part of the alliance. The only country the United States has shared nuclear propulsion technology with is Britain…until now. Australia’s Morrison said his country is not seeking to develop a nuclear weapons program and information sharing would only be to help develop a fleet of submarines. Those vessels will be developed over the next year and a half and be built in Adelaide, Australia.
Morrison said the union between the three nations was inevitable given the rapid shifts in geo-political power structures in recent years.
Defense experts say equipping Australia with nuclear-powered submarines would help level the playing field in the Pacific, given that many see underwater warfare capabilities as being a major weakness in China’s defense strategy.
More from the AP:
“When you have a strong military, it provides a backdrop of deterrence that gives countries the confidence to resist bullying,” said Matt Pottinger, a former national security adviser in the Trump White House who is now a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. “Part of the problem right now is that Beijing has gotten rather arrogant and it’s been less willing to engage productively in diplomacy.”
Biden has made it clear even before he became president that he would take a much more aggressive approach to the U.S.-China relationship than Trump, who focused on trade and economic issues more than anything else.