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AUKUS: Why is it such a big deal?

Introduction

Before answering the question of why the AUKUS agreement is such a global issue, we must first understand its background and contents. Over the past couple of decades, ever since the end of the Cold War between the USSR and the USA, a new nation has been rapidly expanding its influence on the world. That nation is China. In response to China’s growing power, many alliances, notably the World War II-era “Five Eyes” alliance (consisting of the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand & Canada), now seem to be overwhelmingly focused on Beijing. Announced on the 15th of September, 2021, the AUKUS agreement has become the newest addition to the long list of actions taken by the West to counter China.   

Motivations for AUKUS

AUKUS has been described by analysts as one of, if not the most significant security arrangement between the US, UK and Australia since World War II. According to the states involved in the agreement (USA, UK & Australia), the focus of AUKUS is to maintain “a free and open Indo-Pacific,” with the help of nuclear-powered submarines on patrol. The new security partnership will supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarine technology which will be provided by the USA and UK. While it may take over a decade for the Australian Navy to deploy the first submarine, the agreement represents the USA’s mission to form a stronger threat in Asia and the Indo-Pacific to offset China’s rapidly modernizing military. Even though Australia has tried to remain balanced concerning her ties with the USA and China, the recent barrage of disciplinary trade reprisals from Beijing has drastically shifted Australia’s stance on the matter.

China’s Reaction

What does China think of this agreement? Unsurprisingly, Beijing has consistently lashed out at what it calls a “Cold War mentality,” denouncing anti-China partnerships. Chinese officials have stated that the AUKUS agreement will cause an arms race in the Indo-Pacific. From the Chinese perspective, the agreement was not created for competitive purposes, but instead is a deliberate attempt to impede China’s development. Relations have become increasingly tense, even before AUKUS. President Joe Biden’s administration has continued to put effort into preventing China’s economy from pulling ahead. Furthermore, Beijing has sparred with the UK over Hong Kong and Canada over detained citizens while Europe has called China a “systemic rival”.

Reaction of other countries

China is not, however, the only nation that has been upset by AUKUS. France, and many other NATO member states, such as Germany, have denounced the agreement. France suffered the most, losing a $37 billion deal between France and Australia concerning diesel-powered submarines. Adding insult to injury, France – a very old ally of the West – found out about the new pact just a few hours before it was announced to the public. The Asia-Pacific is a key strategic and economic region for France as 1.65 million French citizens reside on islands including La Reunion, New Caledonia, and French Polynesia. The cancellation of a deal that would reinforce such a region is a great loss for France. The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian described AUKUS as a “stab in the back”. As a response, France has recalled her ambassadors to Washington and Canberra for the time being.

Conclusion

All is not lost, however. In a joint statement, President Joe Biden of the USA and President Emmanuel Macron of France have agreed to work on creating “conditions for ensuring confidence and proposing concrete measures toward common objectives”. The two leaders have said they will meet in Europe towards the latter half of October to further mend the damaged diplomatic relations.

Sources

  1. BBC. “Aukus Pact: France and US Seek to Mend Rift.” BBC News, 23 Sept. 2021, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-58659627.
  2. —. “UK, US and Australia Launch Pact to Counter China.” BBC News, 15 Sept. 2021, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-58564837.
  3. Chazan, Guy. “Aukus Security Pact Is ‘Insult to a Nato Partner’, Says Merkel’s Adviser.” Financial Times, 24 Sept. 2021, http://www.ft.com/content/dfc4f860-c178-4c2a-a46c-c5f4e5595b1a. Accessed 26 Sept. 2021.
  4. Prof. Nursin Atesoglu Guney. “ANALYSIS – Third Front of New Cold War Expanding in Asia-Pacific.” Www.aa.com.tr, 24 Sept. 2021, http://www.aa.com.tr/en/analysis/analysis-third-front-of-new-cold-war-expanding-in-asia-pacific/2373757. Accessed 26 Sept. 2021.