Biden’s Indo-Pacific change under scrutiny as AUKUS alliance is formed

As the 20-year war in Afghanistan approaches, US President Joe Biden is looking at intensifying competition with China, bringing into play new mechanisms such as Australia’s “Quad” group, India, Japan and the United States as well. as a security partnership between Australia, Britain and the United States.

But the Biden administration may need more clarity in its Indo-Pacific strategy, which it says will be released in the fall, with the recent launch of the three-way partnership dubbed “AUKUS” sparking a huge diplomatic split with the more former ally of the United States, France. , and questions raised about the evolution of the two coalitions.

US President Joe Biden (right) listens to a speech by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a Quad Summit September 24, 2021 at the White House in Washington. (Kyodo)

“Although there has been some strategic thinking to link European and Asian allies through AUKUS, if you end up angering a very important pillar in the region, France, I have to say that no holistic strategy does existed there, ”said Michito Tsuruoka, an associate. professor at Keio University of Japan with expertise in international security and European politics.

The September 15 announcement of the AUKUS partnership, which included an agreement to help Canberra acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, was clearly one of the highlights during the months of the Biden administration’s effort. to rally allies and like-minded countries to counter China’s growing assertiveness.

But this decision quickly degenerated into a diplomatic crisis. France, which thus lost a multibillion-dollar submarine contract with Australia, reacted with fury, calling the announcement a “stab in the back” of Washington and recalling its ambassadors to the United States. United and Australia.

Tsuruoka said it was important to note that France’s outrage stemmed not only from the economic damage suffered by the cancellation of the contract, but also from the feeling of having been “left out” from the new Indo-Pacific alliance. , even though Paris has served as a key driver for a broader European engagement in the region.

France is the only member of the European Union to have overseas territories in the Indo-Pacific, such as Réunion in the Indian Ocean and New Caledonia in the Pacific.

It has a permanent military presence in the region, with more than 7,000 military personnel deployed there, while also sending its warships to the South China Sea, where Beijing has aggressively asserted its territorial claims.

Japan has also deepened its ties with France, which Tokyo considers a compatriot country sharing the vision of a “free and open” Indo-Pacific. In May, Japan, the United States and France conducted their first three-man ground troop exercise on Japanese soil.

While the US-French feud shouldn’t lead Paris to turn its back on the region, Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that France could be “pretty cool. with the Quad for a little while ”, with Australia and the United States among the members.

Tsuruoka said Japan can play a role in minimizing potential fallout by continuing to approach France to let it know that it fully supports the European country’s involvement in the Indo-Pacific.

US President Joe Biden speaks during a Quad Summit meeting with the leaders of Japan, Australia and India at the White House in Washington on September 24, 2021. (Kyodo) == Kyodo

Despite the “unintended consequences” that followed the deployment of UKUS, Bonnie Glaser, Asia expert at the US German Marshall Fund, said the emergence of new mechanisms should be seen as a “success” for the UK. Biden administration because it shows that countries are “willing to stand up to China” even if they are not explicitly presented as anti-China measures.

“The reason countries are ready to stand up more and do things, whether it is India in the Quad or Australia in AUKUS, is the concern over China’s behavior and its challenges to rule-based order. So I think before they even actually start doing anything, just announcing that they have this new mechanism is very important, “she added.

Green suggested that the AUKUS partnership will have a huge impact in regional waters in terms of energy balance.

“I think the Quad countries that are not in AUKUS – Japan and India – are very happy with it because for the next 50 years it will really reset the trajectories of naval power in the Pacific and, from a point of view of these countries, stabilize things while China massively strengthens its naval forces, ”he said.

But some Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia have raised concerns about AUKUS because they fear an arms race.

As the two new regional coalitions emerge, with Australia being an overlapping member and both groups expected to face challenges posed by China, the countries involved have played down the possibility that the newcomer will sideline the other.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stressed on Friday in Washington, where the first in-person Quad Summit was held, that AUKUS and Quad “are mutually reinforcing” and that “they are not here to replace anything but to add”.

Glaser suggested that while AUKUS focuses on sharing defense technology and enhancing deterrence, the Quad is more likely to pursue non-military initiatives, given that countries like India, the only member among the four that shares a land border with China, and Japan, which has close economic ties to China, is unlikely to want the group to behave too hostile towards Beijing.

US President Joe Biden speaks at a White House event September 15, 2021 in Washington. President Biden announced a new national security initiative in partnership with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, displayed on the left and right screens respectively. (Getty / Kyodo)

Since the Biden administration hopes to cooperate with China to the extent possible in areas such as climate change, it is “smart” to portray Quad as a group focused on “positive” programs such as vaccine delivery. against the coronavirus to Southeast Asia, Glaser said.

But the future course of the Quad could also change depending on China’s behavior, she said.

“If China takes more threatening action against Japan, Australia and India, I think we will actually see more willingness for countries to do things. So it depends in part on China,” he said. she added.

Associated coverage:

Quad Expands Cooperation to Space, Regulates Summit Amid China’s Rise

Japan, US leaders affirm efforts for a free and open Indo-Pacific

Most of the agreements reached during the Quad leaders’ meeting

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