President Joe Biden is leading a new trilateral partnership among the United States, Australia and United Kingdom, which will support Australia to acquire nuclear submarine capability, in a major step toward countering China.
“The United States, Australia and the United Kingdom have long been faithful and capable partners and we’re even closer today,” the President said. “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.”
Underpinning his efforts is a desire to rally the West and US partners in Asia in the battle between “autocracy versus democracy,” one of the defining objectives of his presidency. Biden has made countering China a central plank of his foreign policy as tensions grow over the South China Sea and Taiwan, and has said he wants American allies on board, according to a CNN report.
The new partnership between the US, UK and Australia — three English-speaking maritime democracies — is not specifically about China, officials insisted ahead of the announcement. Instead, they said the three countries would hold a schedule of meetings over the coming months to coordinate on cyber issues, advanced technologies and defense in a bid to better meet modern-day security challenges. The new partnership is called AUKUS, pronounced “aw-kiss.”
Yet it is the move toward establishing nuclear submarine capability in Australia, which officials said will allow the country to operate at a vastly higher level militarily, that will amount to the center of the announcement. Nuclear submarines are able to maneuver at greater speeds and endurance, and more stealthily, than conventional ones, which must surface more often.
The US and UK plan to dispatch technical and strategic teams to identify the best pathway for Australia to acquire nuclear submarines over the next 18 months. It wasn’t clear what the new plan means for a $90 billion deal Australia already made with France for conventional submarines.
American officials described the effort to assist the country with nuclear propulsion as an exceedingly rare step between allies, undertaken only once previously, that in some ways goes against established US practice.
“This technology is extremely sensitive. This is, frankly, an exception to our policy in many respects,” the official said.
Still, the announcement is the latest step by the US to push back against China’s military and technological rise. Next week, Biden will host an in-person summit of the QUAD partnership of Japan, Australia and India — another grouping viewed as a way to assert American leadership in Asia. He has also sought to engage other Asian leaders, and Vice President Kamala Harris visited Singapore and Vietnam very recently.