AUKUS: Does this pact herald a new Cold War?

By Sazzad Haider

HISTORY always repeats itself. This rings true following the formation of AUKUS,  the alliance comprised of the USA, UK and Australia against China.  

All the great powers in nineteenth century – Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and the USA – forged an alliance to downplay Chinese regional dominance.

China lost all forthcoming wars with foreign forces and was forced to sign imbalanced treaties which gave alluring concessions to foreign powers. The British extracted a huge concession, colonised Hong Kong and legalised opium trading.

China was forced to lease or cede territories to rival countries. The Russian empire annexed outer Manchuria and parts of outer northwest China while Jiaozhou Bay invaded by Germany. In addition, Japan occupied the Formosa islands and France also gained Zhanjiang. 

Now, the Spratly Islands of the South China Sea has become a golden apple of the goddess Eris – in Greek mythology, a catalyst of conflict. The islands are stretched out over 409,000 square kilometres in the South China Sea.

Most of the islands are submerged and among them, 12 are natural islets.

Since 2014, China started large-scale reclamations of the seven reefs including Johnson South Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reefs and Cuarteron Reef. Vietnam developed three reefs while Malaysia developed one. Taiwan took Itu Aba Reef.   

France took up the archipelago between in 1933 to 1939. During World War Two, Japan occupied the Spratly Islands and built a submarine base. After the war, the Chinese nationalist government established a garrison at Itu Aba till their exile to Taiwan in 1949.

Japan reclaimed the Island in 1951. China, Taiwan, Vietnam and Philippines all declared their ownership. The USA treated the waterways as international territory and restrained any other countries from reorganising ownership.  China has occupied seven reefs since 1988. 

From an economic and strategic point of view, the Spratly Islands deserve great importance from the regional countries of the South China Sea. The Spratly Islands are expected to be huge sources of oil and natural gas for occupying countries, as well as a mammoth fishing hub of the world.

This sea route is one of the busiest commercial shipping traffic corridors in northeast Asia. In this strategic naval corridor, the USA has intensified military spearhead and naval presence following the Chinese move to build artificial islands.

The USA has launched several “freedom of navigation operations” to ensure free and open access to the South China Sea. In the course of manoeuvres the US warships sailed near the Chinese occupied Islands in the South China Sea. China protested the voyage of the USA destroyers in the naval routes without the Chinese permission.

The USA considered “the Chinese maintained straight baselines around the Paracel’s Islands” is a violation of UN Convention on the law of sea.  So the tensions over the Spratly Island remained as turmoil on the USA-Sino relationship continued, and also evoked China to increase their own naval might.   

Some military analysts believe China is emerging as one of the outermost dangers to the USA military supremacy in Asia since the end of the cold war. China has the most advanced ballistic missile force in the world. To counter the Chinese missile arsenals, the Pentagon is now gambling for new strategic weapons.

The Pentagon is rebuilding its fleet and accelerating development of new weapons including the urgent introduction of longer-range missiles. The United States aims to deploy a 355-strong fleet by 2034 in accordance with the budget proposal documents of Trump Administration of 2020.  Japan, South Korea and Australia are upgrading their navies with new, advanced warships and submarines to counter the Chinese threats. 

According to some military experts, the Chinese missile would serve to deter the USA aircraft carriers from getting too close to the Chinese territories. China has only two air craft carriers (third in early construction) against eleven air craft carriers of the USA. China cannot defeat the USA at sea. ‘But’ according to a Chinese retired Colonel, they “have missiles that specifically target aircraft carriers to stop them from approaching our territorial waters if there were conflict.

“If the US aircraft carriers come too close to our coastlines in a conflict, our missiles can destroy them,” he told Reuters in 2019.

The Chinese officials have never disclosed the number of missiles but the Communist Youth League (CYLC) suggested it consisted of 100,000 personnel alongside 200 intercontinental ballistic missiles, about 300 medium-range ballistic missiles, 1,150 short-range ballistic missiles and 3,000 cruise missiles. 

Since 2017, China has intensified political and economic dominance over the controversial Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. 

In 2014, tensions erupted between China and its seven neighbor countries over the Spratly Islands as China operated massive dredging to build artificial islands in the disputed location on seabed of the South China Sea. By mid-2015, China built at least seven artificial Islands in the South China Sea following of conducting a massive land reclamation project. China built some military installations in these artificial islands including army barracks, watch tower and a runway for fighter planes. 

China also ruled out the possibility to use these installations on military intention and clarified that the objectives are absolutely for civilian purposes to safeguard fishing and maritime trade. 

Along with China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Brunei have claimed rights of these territories. 

In these circumstances, the UK, US and Australian signed ‘the AUKUS Pact’ – a major defence partnership to counter China in the Asia-Pacific region. Following the signing of AUKUS, Australia will get the US technologies for constructing a nuclear submarine to defuse the growing threat from China. 

We can compare AUKUS to NATO -the American-initiated military alliance intended diminish the USSR’s communist expansions in Europe and all over the world following the devastation of the second-world war.

All capitalistic countries of Europe delightedly joined with the NATO-which generated cold-war against the Soviet Union. 

But, significantly, the AUKUS got harsh reactions from European NATO allies.   

Following the formation, France scrapped a $90billion submarine deal with Australia.

But generally, prime members of the European Union are not now in position to oppose China absolutely. Now the relationship between China and Western Europe is at highest level of cooperation since the Chinese Revolution.

China market and Chinese investments is important for the EU’s post-COVID recovery. So, AUKUS kept away from NATO while forming anti-China alliance in Indo-China region. Therefore the newly formed Anglo-linguistic alliance degraded the NATO’s role in Asia.   

Meanwhile, post-Brexit, it seems that the British lion has begun to roar in different seas, oceans, and continent in a bid to assert its global role.     

The UK has now been a very vocal critic of China’s Indo- Pacific military presence.  

In July, Queen Elizabeth, the British aircraft carrier, cruised on the South China Sea in the peak of US-China tensions. The UK also sent Naval Forces and expeditionary units alongside Australian and the US forces in the Northern Territory.

It also planned to establish a permanent planning and coordination mini-HQ in Darwin and keeping one or two frigates on station in the Indo-Pacific, probably in Singapore. 

Britain also backed the USA to grab the submarine deal from its EU ally France and extract economic benefit from the deal.

Now the British lion has kept a keen eye on a very lucrative market in Indo-Pacific countries for exporting military equipment. If the UK can implement its arms marketing plan in collaboration with the USA, it economy will be flourished again from the set back of BRIXIT.  

The USA and the UK pushed Australia successfully to enter into the nuclear club by giving the nuclear powered submarine.  

After Australian, the Asian economic tigers, mostly located in Indo-pacific regions are targeted for next deals. Therefore, a “Chinese hobgoblin” the Spratly Islands exists before those countries.  

But AUKUS got a cold-hearted response from some of rivals of China on the Spratly Islands issue such as ASEAN countries. Indonesia, one of the leading members of ASEAN, marked the Australian submarine deal as “deeply concerned over the continuing arms race and power projection in the region”. 

By the provocation the UK and USA, alluring of making endless money from arms deal will continue to ignite an unforeseen arms race in Indo-pacific region. 

Republic of Korean and Taiwan, the core allies of the USA may not pass over the offer of nuclear deal in future. The berating attitude of China and its ally North Korea towards those countries can invent a room for adorning them with nuclear arsenals. Therefore, it is assumed the arms manufacturers of the USA and UK are eagerly waiting for implanting a new nuclear zone in Indo-Pacific regions.   

But if a war erupt in Asia Pacific region over the golden apple ‘the Spratly Islands’ or for the acts of North Korean rocket boy Kim Jong-un, every country will be gravely affected from a varied but prolonged war and the war cost will be much higher than the cost of  the golden apple ‘ the Spratly Islands’. 

Opinion articles featured on Redaction reflect the views of their author, not those of the publication as a whole. Only Editorials display the opinions of our management.

Featured Image: Pixabay

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