It is now ten years since Barack Obama's administration put Asia at the heart of its security strategy. Obama argued that Asia has grown in importance compared to other parts of the world, as a growing share of the global economic product is created there, and Asia is likely to be the center of the global economy in the 21st century. Obama's pivot to Asia is a diplomatic, economic, and military strategy aimed at ensuring U.S. dominance in Asia as well. From the beginning, the "turn to Asia" was aimed primarily at China, which was becoming stronger economically and more and more self-confident politically. This policy has accompanied Joe Biden in the Obama administration as vice president. And now, more than ever, he seems determined to make the pivot to Asia his top foreign policy priority.
In 2009, the U.S. changed its security and defense policy in order to shift the focus of American foreign policy to what is expected to be the new center of the 21st century economy. The costly and unpopular interventions in the Middle East should be ended in order to focus more on East and Southeast Asia, which was probably the final trigger for the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
From the very beginning, it was a question of developing a strategy for a possible military confrontation with China and trying to "contain" China by military means. It would have been much easier and wiser to sit down with China and negotiate joint trade and military agreements instead of rejecting and snubbing them. The turn to Asia contains almost only military components, a lot of threatening gestures and little willingness to negotiate. China understands the turn to Asia as a hostile intention of the US and as an attempt to encircle the country. It regards the QUAD and the new AUKUS Pact as hostile alliances formed for that very purpose. Although China may not be wrong and in turn responds militarily.
The West's hostility and threats to China are becoming more intense every day. The region is becoming increasingly restless and the states of the region are quite skeptical about the recent threats and maneuvers in the Pacific and the South China Sea, and also express their concern.
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or QUAD for short, was founded in 2007. Its four members are the USA, Australia, with India the most populous country next to China and with Japan the economically strongest country in East Asia.
The QUAD is intended to support cooperation between the "democracies" in the Indo-Pacific region and create a counterweight to China. After its foundation, the block was on ice for a long time. Many countries in the region preferred to turn to China. Philippine President Duterte even called Obama a son of a bitch. Australia temporarily pulled out of the alliance and India is still trying to keep the conflict it has with China from escalating. China is India's most important trading partner. The ASEAN countries are also more interested in good relations with China.
in 2017, the QUAD was revived and has since evolved, there are now regular meetings again. In March 2020 then as QUAD Plus a conference call together with New Zealand, Vietnam and South Korea. Biden seems to be particularly fond of the QUAD. On March 12 of this year, at the initiative of Biden, a virtual meeting of the member states took place, and on September 24 there was a summit of the QUAD at the White House.
The QUAD is driven primarily by a desire to counterbalance China, but neither Biden nor his guests mentioned China and its Silk Road project on September 24, which is a particular thorn in the side of the US. First of all, you want to keep the ball flat and not give a belligerent impression and thus not scare off India too much. Therefore, one preferred to speak of an "informal meeting" in the White House.
However, Biden again referred to the need to defend a "free and open Indo-Pacific". The struggle for freedom of the seas, free shipping and free trade are the watchwords of the West when it comes to enforcing its own expansionary goals and – in Asia – "curbing" China's development. The maintenance of a regional "rules-based order" is in the foreground. According to the US, this so-called rule-based order is intended to replace international law. The rules-based order is no longer based on the UN Charter, but on values that are (of course) to be established and enforced by the "democracies". Freedom and democracy are understood here above all as the freedom of capital to continue to spread and multiply unhindered, but also to be able to repatriate.
Although the QUAD is often referred to as the "Asian NATO", it is not a treaty alliance and there is also no "alliance case" as with NATO, which obliges the contracting parties to provide each other with military assistance. The QUAD does not conduct military exercises, nor does it have a military staff. Not yet.
In mid-September, a week before the QUAD summit in Washington, the United States, Britain and Australia surprisingly announced the formation of the AUKAS alliance. The negotiations on the establishment were apparently largely held behind closed doors. France, in particular, felt snubbed, as it was announced at the same time that Australia should get a nuclear-powered submarine fleet, thereby invalidating an already concluded contract with France for the supply of a fleet of diesel-powered submarines worth $ 66 billion. Without the partnership with Australia, of which France now feels betrayed, France's ambitions in the region are also at risk. France is thus only playing second fiddle in the Indo-Pacific, as the "junge Welt" aptly writes. (About the submarine deal and France's activities in the Pacific, see the article "France's loss is not a gain for China in the Indo-Pacific", which will follow in the next few days.)
AUKUS, too, says that both the US and NATO are concerned with supporting a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region. Freedom of navigation is to be secured by military means. So far, freedom of navigation is hardly threatened there. But that could soon change if there are warring conflicts in the region. The Chinese People's Army is likely to respond to this new alliance with an increased military presence. If the Western provocations do not stop, then at some point there will be an incident that will lead to a military confrontation. Whether unintentionally or extra provoked is irrelevant. If the Indo-Pacific and the South China Sea become a theater of war, then free shipping there is also over. The hawks in the West do not seem to get the idea of negotiating with China instead of encircling it militarily.
AUKUS also violates the spirit of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, since the US nuclear submarines are powered by highly enriched uranium, which is a weapons-grade nuclear material. It also undermines the treaties establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the South Pacific and the efforts of ASEAN countries to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in South-East Asia.
What is particularly striking about the AUKUS Alliance is that no Asian nation is involved. In the QUAD, at least India and Japan are still represented as Asian nations. In the AUKUS there are only Anglo-Saxon nations. It is dominated there by the white color of the skin. Australia, often derided as the "US auxiliary" in the region, is also a member of the British Commonwealth, a nostalgic remnant of colonial times. Australia now puts its Anglo-Saxon friends, the US and the UK, as allies in the first place. It thus discredits itself as a regional partner in the Pacific region.
Australia develops conventional submarines and never built nuclear power plants, but has not acceded to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. However, Australia ratified the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1973 and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty in 1998. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week that Australia had "no plans" to acquire nuclear weapons.
However, the AUKUS Treaty, which includes the construction of eight nuclear-powered submarines in Australia with the support of the United States and Great Britain, breaks with the political decision against nuclear power and is a step towards the development of the same. This is met with controversial discussions in Australia itself. The Australian Greens are already talking about a floating Chernobyl in relation to the submarines.
Australia has many uranium ores and sells them on the world market. For the submarines, of course, the question immediately arises as to where the fuel elements should come from, i.e. whether the uranium should be enriched on the spot and, at the same time, nuclear-weapon-capable fissile material should be produced, as well as the search for a final landfill for nuclear waste. According to experts, it is still ten years until the launch of the first submarine.
Of course, there is also the question of whether Australia really needs eight nuclear-powered submarines and why submarines in particular should contribute to safeguarding the freedom of navigation. A look at the world map shows that Australia does not border the South China Sea, from Perth in northern Australia to the coast of China it is still a good four thousand kilometers, in between Indonesia and the Philippines.
Australia's trade surplus with China was more than $50 billion last year. It remains to be seen whether the establishment of a new alliance against one of his best customers makes economic sense. China is likely to respond by terminating trade contracts. In addition, the Global Times has already described Australia as a "potential target for a nuclear strike."
In China, in the face of increasing Western hostilities, there is already a debate about whether to abandon the policy of abandoning a first-strike nuclear strike against the United States and its allies. But China should keep its "no First use" promise for most other nuclear and non-nuclear states.
Also Russia sees itself threatened by AUKUS. Russian diplomats expressed concern that Australia's development of nuclear-powered submarines would undermine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and accelerate an arms race in the region, and spoke of an Asian NATO. Due to the greater range of the new Australian submarines, they could also penetrate Russian waters, Russia fears. In the event of war, China and Russia would probably form a coalition at sea to oppose the AUKUS Pact.
New Zealand, itself a member of the Commonwealth and traditionally a close partner of Australia, does not allow nuclear-powered ships, no matter what type and nation, to enter its ports and has already announced that there will be no exception for the future Australian submarines.
The ASEAN states want to keep the South Pacific nuclear-weapon-free and see the AUKUS Alliance mainly skeptical. Most ASEAN countries are seeking a good relationship with China rather than the US and are concerned that Australia will now seek to acquire nuclear weapons to deploy on the new submarines. Because only if the submarines are also equipped with nuclear weapons, they develop their full threat. The acquisition of eight nuclear-powered submarines without future nuclear weapons, as Australian Prime Minister Morrison claims, has little credibility.
The ASEAN countries want to preserve Southeast Asia as a "zone of peace, freedom and neutrality", free from any interference from external powers. in 1995, member states signed a treaty establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Southeast Asia, in which they pledged to keep nuclear weapons out of the region. Now they have to fear that the West will take a more aggressive stance towards China and that there will be an arms race in the region. ASEAN is also upset that they have been presented with a fait accompli. They have always insisted on deciding for themselves what is happening in their region, now they have not even been asked. In particular, Indonesia and Malaysia have strongly opposed Australia's planned acquisition of nuclear submarines. Even sIngapore, Australia's most reliable ally in the region, has expressed concern.
Also India has nothing to expect from a new enmity with China. India will probably stick to its policy of not joining too much of a great power. India is also in talks with Washington's rivals Russia and Iran and is likely to acquire Russian surface-to-air missiles in the near future. India has its own strategic interests and will not participate in intensified aggression against China. In addition, India is disappointed with the US withdrawal in Afghanistan and the way it has happened. Because India's neighbor Pakistan was and still is the refuge for all imaginable Islamic groups, Peshawar is the capital of Islamic terrorism and many Mujahedin fled there after the withdrawal of the Americans from the Taliban. India is their mortal enemy and India fears that some of them will soon immigrate to India and cause unrest there.
Apart from France, which reacted angrily to Australia's cancellation of its submarine business, bRussels was more restrained about the agreement, regretting not having been informed beforehand, and assured France of its support. The Presidents of the Commission and the European Council have condemned what they see as snubbing not only France but also the EU. However, the outrage is not felt in all countries of the EU and there will hardly be any serious consequences. The EU will not lean too far out the window. It is also not unexpected that the US did not consider it necessary to consult with its European allies. Nevertheless, the way AUKUS was founded was a serious mistake, which rightly angered Paris. However, the US approach has once again shown that they prefer to rely on their Anglo-Saxon friends rather than on the states of the EU.
Most Southeast Asian governments have expressed unease about AUKUS. But there are also hardliners who welcome the pact. They want to "keep China at bay" and advocate aggressive behavior towards the country. For these hawks, China is the biggest threat to regional security. Japan and South Korea are among them.
The new pact unites two nuclear-armed nations (the United States and the United Kingdom) with a future nuclear-armed Australia. With AUKUS and QUAD, two parallel anti-China blocks have emerged. While AUKUS gives the appearance of a rather hard military pact, the QUAD puts the emphasis on soft power.
The military alliance AUKUS once again shows that money is better spent on wars than on social justice and saving the planet from a climate catastrophe. The nuclear submarine Treaty only benefits the arms companies. The environment will suffer, and so will people.