US has disrupted Asia-Pacific tranquility by inventing ‘China threat’

To understand the real threat to regional peace posed by the military partnership of Australia, Britain and the United States called AUKUS, a good place to start is the original French contract for nonnuclear submarines that Canberra signed and then unilaterally tore up.

In 2016, when Canberra selected the French diesel-electric model for Australia’s next generation of submarines, the country’s leaders understood the defensive nature of its military posture for stability in the Asia-Pacific region. The strategic environment did not in the past several decades, and still does not, warrant the staggering complexity and costs of buying British-US nuclear technology. In any case, it was understood that Washington was unlikely to willingly share the technology. Furthermore, as a party to the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Australia could risk breaching international law.

To appreciate the ruthless, mean-spirited and contract-breaking nature of AUKUS, Paris was not even notified until then-Australian prime minister Scott Morrison announced it jointly with his British and US counterparts in September 2021.

What gave? There is a simple reason: Washington’s decision to preempt China from becoming a peer competitor that Washington believes could realistically challenge its hegemony in Asia, or in the world. Whether Beijing has any such intention is immaterial; the whole purpose is to manufacture the “China threat” to bring its allies, or rather, vassal states, to heel, so the US can reassert regional dominance after the lost decades of fighting wars in the Middle East and South Asia.

What is natural defense development of China in its own region is then sold by Washington to its allies as “aggression” threatening the West. The Asia-Pacific military command of the US was expanded to cover the Indo-Pacific.

The purpose of AUKUS is to shift the military balance in the Indo-Pacific decisively against China without incurring excessive costs to Washington. And that means forcing America’s Asian allies to shoulder the costs. But among the allies, there is a hierarchy.

As one of the Five Eyes English-speaking nations that falls squarely within the Anglo-Saxon sphere, Australia is being told it will now have the privilege of sharing top secret technology that the UK and the US have never shared since it was jointly developed back in the late 1950s. Just one thing. The privilege will come with a price tag of A$368 billion ($246.5 billion), the biggest defense bill in Australian history.

Not only will this mean reprioritizing Australia’s defense planning in the conceivable future, it will likely have a negative impact on the government’s civilian programs such as public medical and welfare provisions. The average taxpayer must ask whether they should be forced to subsidize America’s hegemony by endangering their own national security while undermining their living standards and social safety net.

To justify such egregious demands, Washington and its vassals are telling their public that it is necessary to flood the region with the most advanced military hardware as a “deterrent”. It’s not clear how that would make war less likely by triggering an arms race. And to manufacture the “China threat”, China’s domestic affairs in Hong Kong and Taiwan are being weaponized as excuses to justify the offensive posture.

Having failed spectacularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US now wants to repeat its failing hegemony in a region that is pivotal to the world economy — by turning it into a powder keg.

The US military design is even spilling over into the civilian economy by disrupting supply chains and industrial planning across Asia in a misguided or nefarious attempt to isolate and contain China.

For the UK, the enormous burden of AUKUS is ridiculously justified as a part of Global Britain’s post-Brexit ambitions when the country’s once-famed National Health Service is crumbling and its economy is in the worst shape of all G7 countries with anemic growth in the foreseeable future. What a time to rekindle a long-dead dream of remaining an imperial great power.

But when “big brother” comes, the vassals have no choice but to follow. Those who literally speak the same language will be more willing than others.

Australia’s engagement with Asia such as through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been mutually beneficial. Now, though, more than just a nuclear-powered submarine deal, AUKUS will present the country with a militaristic face confronting the region. It will also militarize its high-tech industry in artificial intelligence, cyber, quantum technologies, thereby turning it into a mirror image of the US. As the three governments have admitted, research organizations and tech firms outside the traditional defense sector will be drafted in.

In the name of deterrence, AUKUS aims to turn Australia’s biggest trading partner into an adversary by challenging its internal affairs and in its own neighborhood.

What is worse is that inadvertently, despite the pact’s supposed urgency, the AUKUS nations have admitted no advanced nuclear-powered submarine will be ready for Australia for almost two decades.

Public statements from the Australian navy acknowledged that the goal is to have at least one Australian nuclear submarine before 2040. In the meantime, it will host the rotation of US and UK submarines. Rather than enhancing the country’s defense, AUKUS will lock it into permanent subservience to US military planning in Asia.

What we are seeing is the deliberate launching of a new Cold War in Asia to disrupt the status quo and turn it into confrontational blocs facing each other. That’s why ASEAN member states have expressed alarm as they rightly try to advocate dialogue and engagement. Predictably, they are being ignored.

A former prime minister and vocal opponent of the pact, Paul Keating, rightly described AUKUS as the “worst deal in all history” and “the worst international decision” by a Labor government since then-prime minister Billy Hughes tried to introduce conscription during World War I.

It’s hard to see AUKUS as anything other than a sinister attempt to prop up America’s declining hegemony by trying to ruin everyone else in Asia.

The author has been a senior writer for a number of leading Hong Kong publications.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.