By signing the AUKUS pact, Australia ditched its decades-long balancing act between the US and China, and chose the US.
The implication of the deal goes beyond China, leading to a debate over whether such a decision will play out in Australia’s national interests and make Australia more secure. So far, it is hard to imagine a scenario how the pact makes Australia and the region more secure.
Some brief points to have a look at:
- Whatever the scenarios you look at, it is unlikely that 8 submarines will somehow deter China from its assertive behavor in the the Indo-Pacific. Even today’s China is unlikely to be deterred. Our 8 submarines will be ready in the coming decades. Will China sit and wait? China will further scale up and diversify its arsenal, and will not hesitate to go beyond its already rapidly improving military technology advancement.
- The US and UK are not traditionally well-received in the region. Indonesia and Malaysia are worried too. Even if they are assured by Australia not to feel threatened directly, they know well that AUKUS will lead to a major arms race in the wider region and may trigger a regional conflict. Indonesia might find itself in a situation to acquire more arms from China and Russia. You can feel the strained relationship already as President Joko Widodo cancelled Morrison upcoming trip.
- AUKUS alienates Australia among the regional players because of its intentions to put its Anglo allies in the US and UK first. As neither the US nor UK are seen as angels in the region, this lead to different pacts and deals. More region countries might find themselves aligning their defence policy with China.
- The deal is part of the US pressure to undermine China as US President Joe Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and current toothless stance against Russia is aimed at focusing all its resources on China. Australia has chosen to be part of this game.
- China is the largest trade partner of the most countries in the region and most of the region countries, including Australia need more trade, capital and good relations to recover their economy from COVID-19 pandemic. Australia is one of the largest commodities exporter and China is the largest importer in the world. Economic implications will be huge.
- Australia has harmed its friendly relations with France and damaged its reputation with the EU. “lost trust has to be rebuilt – and this will obviously not be easy,” Germany and France warned in Brussels.
- This goes beyond the China-US rivalry. The pact may drag Russia to the region. Although Russia, one of the other few nations armed with nuclear-powered submarines, may not be shown as a target, it has reasons to be concerned. It feels uneasy with the US’s influence on its east, especially with Japan and South Korea. Russia said it sees the pact as a threat to “the entire security architecture in Asia.” Australia’s former ambassador to the United States Joe Hockey told Sky News the deal “represents the changing world order, it’s not just about China, even though it is a focus in the Indo-Pacific, but it’s also about Russia, which has significantly increased its capability in recent year.”
- The deal is ineffective against China. It is the same as the failed NATO against Russia. Russia felt itself cornered and built up its military to the level to offset the NATO. Now NATO can hardly be claimed as any effective. Remember Russia invaded parts of Ukraine, Georgia, etc. What did NATO do? What can AUKUS do to China?
- Nobody wants to mess up with China. No mater how many submarines you have, you are not going to fight China. Most ASEAN countries is unlikely to be part of a US-led “Asian NATO”. In the eyes of many, US is a self-centered superpower that cannot be trusted. They look at the Afghanistan fiasco.
- The region countries, especially countries in geo-proximity of China may not like China’s hegemony but they would prefer to avoid being balls in the US-China game. They would rather want China-US cooperation that allows them to benefit from their balancing acts.
- Nobody knows how much it will cost Australia with cost blowouts very common in such projects. Let alone the expected lost revenue in trade tensions. Will submarines become obsolete before they are completed in 2 decades? Will China improve its technology to detect these “silent” submarines? China is making great strides in its space program and will likely use this experience in advancing its space-based military technology, including satellites.