Cold War Echoes as Aukus Alliance Focuses on China’s Deterrence | China

For those studying Cold War history, Washington’s new initiative with London and Canberra – known by its acronym “Aukus” – has connotations of the name UKUSA, an intelligence-sharing agreement signed 75 years ago now. more commonly known as the Five Eye Partnership.

When the full seven-page text of the UKUSA deal was finally published in June 2010, Time magazine called it one of the most important documents of the Cold War which “reveals one of the foundations of the special relationship that the UK and US always cherish. “

But unlike the UKUSA agreement dating from the Cold War, the Aukus alliance has a strong security and technological dimension. It comes at a time when many Western capitals are recalibrating their relations with China. Until recent years, Australia, for example, had insisted on a “hedging” strategy to navigate changing regional dynamics. At one point, Canberra pulled out of Quad, a strategic alliance with Japan, the United States, and India.

“It’s about investing in our greatest source of strength, our alliances, and updating them to better deal with the threats of today and tomorrow,” Joe Biden said Wednesday evening. “It’s about connecting America’s existing allies and partners in new ways.”

Still, he left little doubt about the power Aukus was meant to aim for. After his joint nine-minute announcement with Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson, reporters asked, “Did you tell President Xi [Xinping] when you spoke to her last week? and: “Is this all about China?” “

Joe Biden is joined by Boris Johnson for Wednesday’s announcement. Photograph: REX / Shutterstock

“From Beijing’s perspective, this trilateral initiative is a new US-led coalition emerging,” said Dali Yang, a Chinese foreign policy expert at the University of Chicago.

“Over the past two years, there have been a lot of efforts by the Chinese diplomatic community to try to prevent something like this from happening,” Yang said. “Although in the meantime, Beijing has also tried to strengthen its ties with other countries, in the hope that they can remain as neutral as possible regarding the agreements as such.”

Whether the Aukus initiative will be successful in the long term remains a question. After all, the four-year Trump presidency has shown American partners how multilateral initiatives can collapse overnight with a changing of the guard in Washington.

But if this move survives, it could show the shape of a possible future Indo-Pacific security strategy as Biden unites allies and partners to tackle “21st century threats,” said Yuka Kobayashi of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

“At first glance, it looks like a traditional security partnership, but if you look at the other areas mentioned – cyber and AI [artificial intelligence], for example, they reflect the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. It covers more than security and it’s about deterrence, ”Kobayashi said.

A Chinese two-track strategy?

“With the withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan, we see Washington reorganizing its ‘pivot to Asia’. Likewise, the UK has strengthened its identity as ‘Global Britain’, with more ambitious goals with the Indo-Pacific tilt unveiled in this year’s Integrated Review. “

Ahead of Wednesday’s announcement, senior US officials told reporters the initiative was aimed at “maintaining and improving deterrence.” It’s a narrative about China taking shape these days: it’s not just about confrontation, but more deterrence than cooperation.

Some say that as the COP26 climate change conference approaches, the United States and the United Kingdom in particular would like to bring China to their side to show that a relationship that is both competitive and cooperative is viable in the practice.

“But the key question is how far Biden can go with this two-track strategy, acting more competitively in many ways, while signaling to Beijing that he still wants to discuss and collaborate on other issues.” said Neysun Mahboubi, an expert on China at the University of Pennsylvania. “Will China be interested in the collaborative dimensions of this two-track strategy? “

Days before Wednesday’s announcement, Biden and Xi made their first phone call in seven months. According to the Financial Times, the US president offered a face-to-face meeting, but the Chinese leader did not respond.

Kobayashi believes Xi’s low-key response shows the limits of a two-track strategy when approaching China. “Washington and its allies need to make sure they have a coherent strategy. They must distinguish between global issues such as climate change, which require global cooperation, including China, and security and defense issues as addressed in the Aukus alliance, but also ensure that they have a consistent message.

She added, “China is the number one emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, so any meaningful response to the climate crisis requires China. “

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