It is a measure of the deepening tensions over China’s growing dominance in the Indo-Pacific region that a number of key Western powers have felt it necessary to form an alliance aimed at enhancing their military strength.
This week’s signing of a new agreement between Australia, the UK and US to build a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines for the Australian navy is a direct response to the emerging threat China is deemed to pose to the security of the region.
The Chinese military is currently engaged in a significant build-up, with Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the UK’s Chief of the Defence Staff, recently warning that China is building the equivalent tonnage of Britain's Royal Navy every four years.
Moreover, concerns that China’s Communist rulers are determined to reclaim control of Taiwan by the end of this decade, as well as expanding their influence throughout the Indo-Pacific region, has added a deepening sense of urgency among the major Western to strengthen their military capabilities to deal with any future threat from China.
First key step
The first significant step towards countering the emerging threat posed by China was taken in 2021 when Australia agreed a new defence alliance with the UK and the US known as the Aukus pact.
While the pact envisages increased cooperation on developing a new range of weapons technologies, from hypersonic missiles to cyber warfare, the main reason for forming the alliance is to provide the Australian navy with a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.
Relations between Beijing and Canberra have been under considerable strain in recent years and came to a head in 2020 when the Australian government campaigned for an independent inquiry into the origins of coronavirus, which many Western politicians have claimed came from China.
Beijing retaliated by launching a trade war against Australia, placing punitive tariffs on Australian beef and barley.
In response, Australia has sought to strengthen its military, with the Aukus pact seen as an important statement of intent by Canberra to contain Chinese activities in the region. China’s growing militarisation of the South China Sea has resulted in Beijing being involved in territorial disputes with Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and other nations.
Terms of new agreement
Under the terms of the agreement signed by US President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the US naval base in San Diego, California, this week, Australia is to buy three US Virginia class nuclear-powered submarines in the early 2030s, with an option to buy two more if required.