The new defense alliance between Australia, the United States and Great Britain to provide Canberra with cutting-edge technology for a fleet of nuclear attack submarines represents a major setback to the long-term goal of Beijing to achieve strategic domination in the Indo-Pacific Region. The alliance – AUKUS for short – also represents an important step forward for the Biden administration’s efforts to thwart China’s military ambitions and to address the very disturbing challenges posed by Beijing’s remarkable rise in the United States. last decade.

The presence of Australian submarines, which not transporting nuclear weapons, but conventional cruise missiles, will go a long way in combating the erosion of U.S. military deterrence in the region, which experts say has only encouraged China to take a much more assertive stance in the region. regional affairs than she has ever done before.

Since about 2013, the People’s Republic of China has pursued a foreign policy aimed at severing economic and security ties between the United States and other nations in the region, including America’s longtime allies, Japan. and South Korea, and to challenge US naval supremacy in the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans. Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, said the new deal, which will ultimately lead to a fleet of highly sophisticated Australian submarines operating in international waters that Beijing brazenly claims to be its own, “would seriously undermine regional peace and stability. , exacerbate an arms race and undermine nuclear non-proliferation efforts.

Yet the collapse of relations between the two Asia-Pacific countries that precipitated the agreement graphically exposes the “sordid underbelly” of China’s vision for the region’s future. Just six years ago, Australia was at the epicenter of President Xi Jinping’s bold new foreign policy of “peaceful ascension and development”, the goal of which, said the most powerful Chinese leader since then. Mao, was to enhance the prosperity of China and all of its neighbors through a wide range of diplomatic, commercial and cultural agreements and organizations. China’s new wealth would be put to good use around the world, creating alternatives to the international institutions and political framework developed by the United States and its allies in the aftermath of World War II – the so-called “international order”. rules-based ”. “

Xi and the Chinese Communist Party have spent billions over the past eight years on the Belt and Road Initiative, the Development Bank of China and other organizations to connect and expand economies of more than 60 countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe, and linking them to an alternative international system, with a multitude of new ports, railways, express trains, airports and other projects of infrastructure, largely financed by Chinese money.

In 2014, an exuberant President Xi said in a speech to the Australian parliament marking a new free trade agreement that “it is the constant currents of mutual understanding and friendship between our two peoples that have created the vast ocean of good will between China and China. Australia. I am very encouraged by the massive support for Sino-Australian relations in the two countries. “

Now the merits of the relationship have faded, and the Australian government and its people have become deeply suspicious of China’s overall geopolitical strategy for the region.

What happened?

The short answer is that Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the vast majority of Australians have grown increasingly frustrated and bitter over China’s relentless efforts to shape Australian opinion and policy through a campaign of war. reporting on social and mainstream media, and threatening, and in some of the detention cases, Australian academics and journalists who challenge the legitimacy of Beijing’s selfish rhetoric and policies.

And perhaps most importantly, they are fed up with Beijing’s seemingly relentless use of economic coercion, sanctions and tariffs, all designed to bludgeon Australians into taking pro-China (and sometimes) anti-US political positions. .

The downfall began in 2017, when then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pushed through new legislation to prevent foreign (read: Chinese) interference in Australian domestic politics, after a confidential government report exposed significant interference and manipulation by Chinese companies, security officers, and Chinese citizens in Australia working at the behest of the Beijing government.

Months after the law came into effect, the Turnbull government announced it would exclude China’s huge telecommunications company Huawei, the world’s largest, from building Australia’s 5G network over security concerns. national. The unexpressed concern was clear enough: Huawei was seen as a quasi-governmental institution – indeed an arm of the CCP and the government – and would be able to mine a large amount of data on Australian society and politics that could be exploited for China. ends.

After Prime Minister Morrison called for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19, Chinese state-controlled media denounced the Australian government as “a giant kangaroo that serves as a dog in the United States”, and continued to impose punitive penalties and tariffs on Australian imports of iron ore, barley and wine.

In November 2020, Beijing deliberately disclosed a 14-point grievance case against Australia for “leading a crusade” against Chinese policies and positions on Taiwan, Hong Kong and the South China Sea, which Beijing has seized and fortified a number of islets which a UN-sanctioned international tribunal has ruled outside of China’s sovereign territory.

This blatant diplomatic and economic intimidation campaign has now turned against Beijing, bringing Australia ever closer to the United States and the rules-based international order it has ruled for more than seventy years. The dramatic decision of the Morrison government to ally with the United States and Britain against the rise of China, explains Richard Maude, an Australian security expert, in an interview with The New York Times, “Is truly a watershed moment – a defining moment for Australia and how it views the future of the Indo-Pacific region. This represents “serious concerns about the deteriorating security environment in the region, China’s military strengthening and China’s willingness to use coercive power to pursue its national interests.”

“Acute concerns” indeed. Implicitly, the ruling rather strongly suggests that Canberra has concluded that the PRC’s foreign policy of “peaceful ascension” is far more threatening to all the nations of the region than Xi Jinping would have the world believe. It is also the conclusion of a growing number of Western defense and regional experts, who see China’s aggressive intimidation tactics against Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, Indonesia and the Australia echoes the tactics of former rising powers, such as Japan in East Asia in the late 1930s and the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe after World War II. As Professor Jennifer Lind of Dartmouth put it in an important essay by Foreign Affairs, China “uses its economic coercion to bend other countries to its will. He strengthens his army to repel the challengers. He intervenes in the domestic politics of other countries to obtain more favorable policies. And it invests heavily in educational and cultural programs to strengthen its soft power. As Chinese power and ambition grows, these efforts will only increase. China’s neighbors must start debating how comfortable they are with this future and the costs they are willing to pay to shape or prevent it.

Australia’s decision to join the United States and the United Kingdom in an indefinite strategic alliance to combat intimidation and Chinese military adventurism is a major achievement for the administration’s still inexperienced Chinese policy. Biden. So far, the centerpiece of this strategy has been to renew international confidence in the United States as defenders of international order, to strengthen old security alliances with allies such as Japan, Korea South and the Philippines, and to create new ones, such as AUKUS, and the currently informal alliance of “Quad” nations: the United States, India, Japan and Australia, which has been initiated by the Japanese.

“In the recent Pentagon War Games in which the United States tries to blunt a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, the American team invariably loses.“

AUKUS, which goes far beyond the mere provision of underwater technology to Australia to ensure close cooperation between the three parties in the development of cyber warfare, artificial intelligence and quantum computing at the The future promises to enhance the West’s greatly reduced ability to penetrate the formidable “anti-access, air-denial” capabilities into the Western Pacific with naval and air power. China’s rapid improvements in anti-ship hypersonic missiles, naval air power, and cyberwarfare have made power projection in the region increasingly problematic for the United States and its allies. It is well known to defense experts, for example, that in recent Pentagon war games in which the United States attempts to blunt a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, the American team suffers significant losses and invariably ends up to lose.

Restoring credible deterrence, of course, is only part of Biden’s emerging strategy towards China. The form of this strategy is not entirely clear yet, but a recent essay by Biden’s top China-relations adviser Kurt M. Campbell and Rush Doshi tells us a lot. The Indo-Pacific region today, say these two renowned analysts in Foreign Affairs earlier this year, “it feels like pre-war Europe – unbalanced, its order crumbling, with no obvious coalition.” A new strategy would recognize “the need for [new] balance of power; an order that the states of the region recognize as legitimate; and the need for an allied and partner coalition to meet China’s challenge to both. “

The Biden administration, in other words, must work tirelessly and patiently with Xi Jinping to better manage economic and political competition through diplomacy, and to strengthen military-to-military dialogue with a view to establishing a new set of protocols and rules of engagement to prevent a minor military incident from turning into a serious shooting war.

Much remains to be done to complete America’s long-awaited strategic pivot from the Middle East and Europe to Asia, but the AUKUS deal is a great start.