The pace of events (and tension) in the Indo-Pacific region accelerates sharply. After the fiasco of the United States in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden feels the need to show that his country continues to be the world leader and that not only will it not disappear from the international scene, but that it will reinforce its bet against China.
Along these lines, and with the addition that his second telephone conversation with Xi Jinping has not served to alleviate tensions, we must understand his announcement this week about the creation of a security alliance with Australia and the United Kingdom (hence the name of Aukus). A movement that definitively shifts the center of gravity of the world agenda towards the area and that, incidentally, has caused a shock with effects in several directions.
Australia takes sides
On the one hand, Australia, which in recent times had played with some ambiguity, caught between Chinese trade dependence and the US requirements for unequivocal alignment against Beijing, has ended up taking sides in the most notorious way.
Committed to the French state company Naval Group since 2016 to develop twelve conventional submarines that would replace the archaic six units of Swedish design that it has until now – within the framework of the so-called Attack program, estimated at some 56,000 million euros and weighed down by the accumulation of changes of course in its definition and increasing delays – Canberra has finally decided to close this program and launch another with Washington to equip itself with eight nuclear-powered submarines.
Although Prime Minister Scott Morrison insists that they will be equipped with conventional weapons (probably the US Tomahawk cruise missiles, with some 2,500 kilometers of range), that decision will make Australia the seventh country with nuclear submarine devices, placing it resolutely in the orbit of Washington in its eagerness to face the Chinese emergency and endowing it with a much improved patrol and deterrence capacity thanks to its practically unlimited autonomy.
The EU loses weight
On the other hand, it is not only a question of France losing a lucrative contract, but it is enough to remember the words of its foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian – it is a stab in the back ”- to venture that relations between the US and France they are going to tighten up even more.
Seen from the perspective of a European Union (EU) that, precisely on the same day as Biden’s announcement, made known its new stance towards China (Global Gateway), what happened can only be understood as a sign of the weight loss of the Twenty-seven on the American agenda.
Washington is betting, as on so many other occasions before, to join forces with Anglo-Saxon allies; an option that is a fantastic gift for a UK displaced after Brexit and that intends to continue playing in the first world division, aligning itself as closely as possible with the US. A line of action that will be further reinforced with the imminent summons of Biden to the members of the Quad (Australia, the US, India and Japan) on the 24th, also with China in mind.
It may seem that Washington has been carried away by the rush, adding to its side actors without sufficient specific weight, but willing or in need of its immediate security guarantees, without understanding that the EU is, by far, its main natural ally to be able to maintain its leadership and to contain China.
What happened also makes it even clearer that, as was already perceived after the European round of Biden last spring, the transatlantic relationship creaks more and more visibly, which will increase dissent within the framework of NATO, without the Union seems capable in the short term of giving real content to the coveted “strategic autonomy” that both Ursula Von der Leyen and Josep Borrell intend to promote.
China’s main asset
As for China, his criticism of Aukus cannot be surprised in any way, calling it extremely irresponsible in putting the security of the region at risk. Beijing knows that it has become the preferred target of Washington’s effort to redirect its efforts towards the area and to add allies, building various economic, technological, military and intelligence alliances that seek to contain the Asian giant.
His leadership vocation and his military modernization are undeniable, although he remains below the US. So are his increasing acts of intimidation in disputed waters with his neighbors. But above that, today, its main asset to prevent its neighbors from jumping into the arms of Washington is not the military instrument, but the commercial, financial and technological one.
In this way, becoming the first commercial partner and investor, it manages to stop decisions against it, as frequently happens in the framework of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and even achieves the inhibition of some or makes them its ally. The latest sign of that strategy is its formal decision, announced the day after Aukus’ announcement, to become part of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, an initiative originally promoted by Washington (although it later decided to stay on the sidelines) precisely to isolate China in the region.
It is not, of course, war, but the tension is served.