New Aukus deal escalates tensions with China
Twenty years after invading Afghanistan, the United States and its Nato allies were arguably defeated by the Taliban – a group which is perhaps hundreds of years behind in its development.
So many may wonder what is the likelihood of the US and its allies defeating China in an escalating Cold War II.
But the announcement of Aukus — a new US,UK and Australia security pact yesterday — seems to have ratcheted up tensions to a new level.
China has already come out and denounced the pact as “extremely irresponsible”.
The new alliance risks “severely damaging regional peace… and intensifying the arms race” Chinese Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said earlier today, criticising the “obsolete cold war mentality”.
China wasn’t the only country that was unhappy about the development. France isn’t too pleased either, as it only heard about the deal between the English-speaking countries at the time of the global announcement, and as it seems to threaten its own arms deal with Australia.
Australia had signed a deal with France to build 12 submarines, worth some £27 billion. But that deal is now sunk. “It’s really a stab in the back” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drain.
Like the Taliban, the Chinese government seems to take a long term view, as opposed to the short term view often taken by democratically elected governments in the West, always keeping an eye on the next election.
But unlike the Taliban, the Chinese government is in charge of a fast-growing economy that is more technologically advanced than most other countries, and is rapidly catching up to the US in some of its expertise – and perhaps exceeding in some areas.
Under President Xi Ping, China has grown tremendously and has started to push its weight around – both internally and externally.
Internally, the Chinese government has been accused of genocide against the Uighur people in its Xinjiang province, forced organ harvesting from followers of Falun Gong, and cultural genocide of Tibetan people. China has also clamped down on the freedoms of Hong Kong, a British colony until its handover back to China in 1997, despite its official One country, two system policy.
Externally, China has been staking its claim to the disputed areas in the South China Sea, building new islands on which it has created armed bases, while turning up the heat on Taiwan – officially the Republic of China – which the PRC sees as a renegade province which will return to China.
Further afield China has been building out its reach globally with its One Belt One Road initiative, gaining significant power over many underdeveloped countries in Africa and Asia. China has been building highways across the globe in countries like Jamaica and Kenya at what appears to be amazing deals, often getting land as part payment. It has also been building ports in places as diverse as Cuba and Pakistan, with plans to possibly build a competitor to the Panama Canal through Nicaragua.
China has even started pushing its weight with the weaker members of the group of developed countries. As Australia’s largest trading partner, relations between the two countries have quickly deteriorated as China tries to show Australia who’s the boss.
China used to be known as the sleeping giant, but it is clearly not sleeping any more – and has been growing in power at a time when the United States has been largely sleeping with its policy of isolation, started under President Obama, cranked-up under President Trump with his declared ‘America First’ policy and now seemingly cranked-up some more under President Joe Biden and his apparent ‘America Alone’ policy.
Or so it seemed, when Biden withdrew from Afghanistan with little if any discussion with Nato allies. The decision resulted in the Taliban reclaiming the country and putting the lives of US and Nato citizens as well as Afghan allies at risk when not everyone could be pulled out from the country before the US-declared withdrawal date.
But now the situation has changed, as with Aukus the US has now joined forces with the UK and Australia to up the ante in its developing cold war with China.
Yesterday Biden declared the new deal, where the US and UK would work with Australia to help it to gain a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.
Some of the importance of the announcement was diluted by Biden’s apparent inability to remember the name of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, referring to him as ‘That fella down under’. Fortunately for the UK’s image of its importance in the ‘special relationship’ he did remember the name of ‘Boris’.
“And I want to thank that fella Down Under. Thank you very much pal,” Biden said after first thinking Boris. “Appreciate it Mr Prime Minister.”
Name forgetting aside, the move shows that the US is not about withdrawing from global politics, but rather wants to put minnows like Afghanistan aside, so that it can concentrate more fully on what it sees as the larger problem – a rising China, that is threatening the US position of dominance.
There was no similar rivalry between the US and EU as that group of nations was and is happy to play second fiddle to America – and anyway, both have strong democratic credentials and similar economic systems.
China is another story. Its population of 1.5 billion people is larger than the US (333 million), Canada (38 million) and the EU (447 million) combined – or and the UK (68 million) too. Combined those Western advanced economies have a population of ‘only’ 886 million people. Throw in Australia (26 million) and you still have a total population of ‘only’ 912 million people.
Many developing countries are happy to see a new game in town. They have little love for America or their former colonial masters, who they blame for running roughshod over their economies, exploiting their resources and people while often undermining their governments. Some of these countries tried to benefit during the first Cold War by playing the USSR against the USA, trying to boost their own economic development by receiving handouts for allegiance.
But that war ended first with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and then with the collapse of the USSR in December 1991 some 30 years ago. The US and its Nato allies thought the war was over, and largely withdrew from interfering or helping developing countries – with the notable exception of Afghanistan and Iraq.
In this new ‘sink or swim’ world, many developing countries were happy to get what seemed like development aid at bargain basement prices from China. And many will be happy to once again try to leverage more aid out of either China or the US and its Nato allies for the chance of getting more development assistance.
Really, as battle lines are drawn in this new Cold War, the best country for the US to have on its side is India. Although poor, India’s growing population of 1.4 billion people is a potential counterweight to China’s 1.5 billion.
It is perhaps with this in mind that China first lifted its one child per family policy to allow families to first have two children, and now to have three.
As a democracy that follows its version of the Westmnister model, India should be a natural ally of the developed democratic countries – even though it has followed a policy of non-alignment since gaining independence from the UK in 1947.
And there are tensions between India and China, which neighbour each other, but the high wall of the Himalayas keeps them apart.
The country views with suspicion Chinese moves to gain influence over Pakistan and Sri Lanka with the building of ports.
So will India – which the UK invited to the last G7 meeting in Cornwall – align itself with the Anglosphere and Nato, to try and contain the rise of China?