U.S., U.K., Australia to form security partnership amid rise of China

Sep 16 , 2021. 2 hours ago – 08:18 KYODO NEWS

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during an event at the White House Sept. 15, 2021 in Washington. President Biden announced a new national security initiative in partnership with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, shown on the left and right screens, respectively. (Getty/Kyodo)

WASHINGTON – The United States on Wednesday announced the launch of a new security partnership with Britain and Australia in an apparent effort to counter China’s assertiveness in the region, starting with efforts to help Canberra’s bid to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

“Today, we’re taking another historic step to deepen and formalize cooperation among all three of our nations because we all recognize the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo Pacific over the long term,” Biden said at the White House, joined in virtual format by his counterparts from the two countries.

A Biden administration official emphasized that the partnership called “AUKUS” — representing the names of the three countries — is not aimed at any specific country but is about advancing the group’s strategic interests, upholding the international rules-based order and promoting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

“This is meant to complement ongoing and existing security and political partnerships, and it’s meant to send a message of reassurance and a determination to maintain a strong deterrent stance into the 21st century,” the official said.

Under the new partnership, the three countries will promote deeper information and technology sharing and enhance joint defense capabilities and interoperability, with particular focus on cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and quantum technologies.

The first initiative will feature an 18-month effort involving the three countries to identify the “optimal pathway” for Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, according to a statement issued by the leaders.

The official highlighted the significance of sharing with Australia an “extremely sensitive” nuclear technology for propulsion purposes, saying Britain is the only other country privy to the U.S. technology, with the arrangement dating back to 1958.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in his remarks that his country “is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, or establish a civil nuclear capability.”

“And we will continue to meet all our nuclear nonproliferation obligations,” he said.

The latest development comes as Britain has been stepping up its engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, partly driven by China’s attempts to undermine the rule of law, democracy and human rights such as in Hong Kong, a former British colony.

Australia, for its part, has seen its ties with Beijing sour amid the coronavirus pandemic, particularly after Canberra last year called for an independent review of the origins of the virus, first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. The two countries have also been at odds over tariffs and human rights.

Australia is also a member of the Quad framework involving the United States, Japan and India — a group of major Indo-Pacific democracies seen as a counterweight to China’s increasing clout.

“We undertake this effort as part of a larger constellation of steps, including stronger bilateral partnerships with our traditional security partners in Asia — Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines — and also stronger engagement with new partners like India, Vietnam and new formations like the Quad,” the Biden administration official said.

The Quad will hold its first in-person meeting among the leaders of the four countries next week at the White House.