US, Australia & UK joining forces in Indo-Pacific to counter China’s aggressive behaviour
Washington/Beijing: The US, UK and Australia have unveiled details of their plan to create a new fleet of nuclear-powered attack submarines, aimed at countering China’s growing assertiveness in the strategic Indo-Pacific and ensuring that the region remains “free and open.”
Under the Aukus ambitious agreement, Australia will first receive at least three nuclear-powered submarines from the US.
The announcement was made after US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese attended a summit meeting in San Diego on Monday and asserted that the move is to keep the Indo-Pacific region “free and open.”
“With the support and approval of the Congress, beginning in the early 2030s, the United States will sell three Virginia-class submarines to Australia with the potential to sell up to two more if needed, jumpstarting their undersea capability a decade earlier than many predicted,” Biden said in the presence of Albanese and Sunak.
As part of the announcement, the US has also pledged a total of USD 4.6 billion over the next few years to build its submarine construction capacity and to improve the maintenance of its Virginia-class submarines.
“This state-of-the-art conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarine will work — that will combine the UK submarine technology and design with the American technology,” he said.
The Indo-Pacific is a biogeographic region, comprising the Indian Ocean and the western and central Pacific Ocean, including the South China Sea.
The US, India and several other world powers have been talking about the need to ensure a free, open and thriving Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China’s rising military manoeuvring in the region, vital to global trade.
China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea.
For Australia, it is a major upgrade to the US ally’s military capabilities. The country becomes just the second after the UK to receive Washington’s latest nuclear propulsion technology.
The submarines will be able to operate further and faster than Australia’s existing diesel-engine fleet and it will also be able to carry out long-range strikes against enemies for the first time.
Reacting to the announcement by the three countries, China strongly criticised the significant naval deal.
“The latest joint statement issued by the US, the UK and Australia shows that the three countries, for their own geopolitical interests, have totally disregarded the concerns of the international community and gone further down the wrong and dangerous path,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.
The US, the UK and Australia said they are committed to set the highest nuclear non-proliferation standard, this is nothing but a high-sounding rhetoric to deceive the world, he said.
“In essence, it is a move to coerce the IAEA Secretariat into making safeguards exemption arrangements, which would seriously undermine the authority of the body. China is firmly opposed to this,” Wang said in Beijing.
Australia’s future SSN, which President Biden described as “SSN-AUKUS”, will also be a state-of-the-art platform designed to leverage the best of submarine technology from all three nations.
SSN-AUKUS will be based upon the UK’s next-generation SSN design while incorporating cutting-edge US submarine technologies and will be built and deployed by both Australia and the United Kingdom.
“Beginning this year, Australian personnel will embed with US and UK crews on boats and at bases in our schools and shipyards. We will also begin to increase our port visits to Australia. In fact, as we speak, the nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Asheville, is making a port call in Perth,” Biden said.
“And later this decade, we will be establishing a rotational presence of the US and UK nuclear-powered subs in Australia to help develop the workforce Australia is going to need to build and maintain its fleet,” he said.
Describing it as a new chapter in the relationship between the three countries, Albanese said this is a friendship built on their shared values, commitment to democracy, and a common vision for a peaceful and prosperous future.
President Biden said all three countries were committed to ensuring that the region would remain free and open.
“Forging this new partnership, we’re showing again how democracies can deliver our own security and prosperity… not just for us but for the entire world,” he said.
From early in the next decade, Australia will take delivery of three US Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines. This is the first time in 65 years and only the second time in history that the United States has shared its nuclear propulsion technology, he said.
Commenting on the deal, Sunak said, “Sixty years ago, here in San Diego, President Kennedy spoke of a higher purpose: the maintenance of freedom, peace, and security. Today, we stand together united by that same purpose. Recognising that to fulfil it, we must forge new kinds of relationships to meet new kinds of challenge, just as we have always done.”
“In the last 18 months, the challenges we face have only grown. Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, China’s growing assertiveness, and the destabilising behaviour of Iran and North Korea all threaten to create a world defined by danger, disorder, and division,” he said.
“Faced with this new reality, it is more important than ever that we strengthen the resilience of our own countries. That is why the UK is today announcing a significant uplift in our defence budget.
Australian Prime Minister Albanese said the submarine plan would create thousands of new jobs and marked the “biggest single investment in Australia’s defence capability in all of its history”.
“This will be an Australian sovereign capability, commanded by the royal Australian navy and – sustained by Australian workers in Australian shipyards with construction to begin this decade,” said Albanese.