AUKUS vs. Quad: A reality check

by Asad Mirza

AUKUS, named after Australia, the UK and the US, proclaims to bring hard military power to support the order built by Washington in Asia, and “sustain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region”, as per a statement by the White House.

Observers are perplexed by this new American action, as it has no parallel in the modern day diplomatic history. Some describe it as Anglophonic camaraderie. Through AUKUS the US will share its nuclear technology with any country. The new agreement will deliver 60 attack submarines, including six nuclear attack submarines to be built by the UK and technology provided by the US.

In fact, AUKUS demonstrates the seriousness with which the US views the Chinese activities in the South China Sea and adjoining islands. China has claimed most of the territories in the South China Sea, defying a 2016 decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague declaring it as without legal basis.

China has also built artificial islands in the South China Sea and constructed massive runways and shipping docks, while also reportedly installing missile systems on the Spratly Islands. It has rejected competing claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam in the South China Sea.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned against “interference from external forces” in the region, as Australia shrugged off Beijing’s growing anger about AUKUS.

AUKUS has also caused much consternation and anger in France because Australia terminated an earlier deal with Naval Group, a state-controlled French company, to build a dozen diesel-powered submarines.

In their responses, French officials and some commentators have cast the announcement as representing a kind of geopolitical infidelity by the US that demonstrates it does not take France (and by extension, they hasten to add, Europe as a whole) seriously as a partner.

The announcement has also fueled fears that Europe is being cut out by Washington, with EU nations still smarting over the way the US handled the withdrawal from Afghanistan

On his part, Morrison said his government was reacting to changing dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region, where territory is increasingly contested and competition is rising. He told Australian media that the defense alliance had been “well-received” in his discussions so far with leaders in Japan, India, Singapore, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

India’s predicament

For New Delhi, AUKUS isn’t good news, either. The new accord raises questions about the importance of the Quad — the four-nation alliance of the US, Australia, Japan and India. In particular, New Delhi will worry that the US is concerned only with pushing back against China, leaving its concerns about Pakistan and the western Indian Ocean unaddressed. India also felt left out of the regional political dynamics when it was not invited to join the Doha talks with the Taliban alongside the US, Pakistan and Qatar.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met President Joe Biden and his Japanese and Australian counterparts at the White House in Washington for the Quad summit and discussed the priority areas.

Biden said this is a grouping of “democratic partners who share a world view and have a common vision for the future” and are “coming together to take on key challenges”. This means that Quad will act as a socio-economic organization and the region’s defence will be led by AUKUS, which leaves India in the cold regarding its concerns of Chinese aggression in the North China Sea and Indian Ocean.

Modi’s bilateral meetings with the POTUS and Vice President Kamala Harris regarding AUKUS and Quad didn’t result in any benefit for India. Instead, he got lessons on maintaining democracy, democratic traditions and democratic institutions, whatever little the US media reported revealed. That might have forced him to change his address at UNGA on the theme of democracy in the region.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. OpEd courtesy IANS)

Image courtesy of (Photo courtesy Sydney Morning Herald)

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