Biden announces joint deal with UK and Australia to counter China

“It’s about investing in our greatest source of strength, our alliances and updating them to better deal with the threats of today and tomorrow,” Biden said from the White House between two monitors. showing other world leaders. “AUKUS – sounds weird, all those acronyms, but it’s a good one.”

“Now we need to take our partnership to a new level,” Morrison said.

“We are adding a new chapter to our friendship,” added Johnson.

The three countries will work over the next 18 months to find the best way to deliver the technology, which the United States has traditionally only shared with the United Kingdom, the official said. U.S. officials and experts have noted that Australia currently does not have the fissile material necessary to operate a nuclear-powered submarine, meaning the next year and a half of negotiations will likely include discussions on the transfer of nuclear materials.

Washington and Canberra signed a landmark “123 deal” in 2010 in which Australia pledged not to enrich or reprocess nuclear material sent to it from the United States.

Australia is not looking for a nuclear weapon, stressed Morrison and Biden. However, a senior official in the US administration previewed Wednesday morning’s remarks about nuclear submarines that “this technology is extremely sensitive. It is frankly an exception to our policy in many ways. I do not anticipate that this will be undertaken under other circumstances in the future. “

There is nothing explicit about China in the three-way deal, but two US officials noted that the ad’s subtext is that it is another Allied move. Westerners to push back the rise of China in the military and technological fields.

“This is a surprising and extremely welcome sign of the Biden administration’s willingness to strengthen its close allies like Australia through the provision of highly advanced defense technology assistance – something Washington has rarely been willing to do. do, “said Ashley Townshend, director of foreign policy and defense program at the US Center in Sydney. “This suggests a new and more strategic approach to working collectively with allies on Indo-Pacific defense priorities.”

Canberra to abandon a $ 90 billion submarine deal with France and instead buy American-made nuclear-powered submarines, with help from the UK The French deal had long been in trouble, with the Naval Group, the French shipbuilder responsible for building the 12 submarines, and the Australian government have battled over design changes and cost increases over the past few years.

Neither Naval Group nor the French government have commented on the change in leadership.

A new class of nuclear-powered submarines would give Washington and its allies in the Pacific a powerful new tool in an attempt to contain Chinese military expansion, and would follow the current deployment of a British aircraft carrier in the region, and recent transits by French and German warships in the South China Sea.

The US and UK have long been partners on their nuclear-powered submarine programs, sharing technology between their different classes of ships. Bringing Australia into the fold would be a major step in increasing the ability of the three countries to operate together under the sea across the Pacific, as well as adding a powerful allied punch to the region that is currently lacking.

Another US official said any sale of submarines to Australia would take several years. But in the meantime, there will be pressure for more US nuclear submarines to stop over in Australia to show their presence. Late last year, the United States reached an agreement with Norway to expand and modernize an Arctic port to allow US nuclear-powered submarines to dock and refuel, a major initiative for the extension of operations in the Far North where the powerful Russian Northern Fleet holds. to balance.

Pentagon officials have already started working with Congress to try to facilitate industrial cooperation with Australia and the UK, a process that could take some time as US-based defense companies and Members of Congress will likely be cautious in sharing technology, and potential offshoring of some jobs.

“We are working with Congress to make sure we have the power to invest in Australia and the UK,” Jesse Salazar, Pentagon deputy assistant secretary for industrial policy, said at an event at the University. George Mason Wednesday.

Beijing has a growing arsenal of missiles and its forces are more and more aggressive, sailing in recent days on warships near Japanese and American waters. It’s part of China’s efforts to assert its primacy in the Indo-Pacific and claim contested territories. Chinese officials say the territory that lies within the country’s “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea belongs to Beijing.

In response, the United States continues to forge partnerships with other countries that serve as a bulwark against China. One of these groups is known as the “Quad”, made up of the United States, Japan, Australia and India. Formed in its current iteration in 2017, the group of four countries are cautious about explicitly saying their economic, technological and military cooperation is aimed at thwarting Beijing’s goals, but analysts say the Quad would not be as robust today. if he wasn’t. for China’s continued assaults.

On September 24, the four leaders of the four nations will gather at the White House for the first-ever in-person rally at the group leadership level.

Japan has long been suspicious of Chinese intentions and provocations in the East China Sea, but Australia and India have experienced more recent hot spots.

A trade war between China and Australia has worsened relations between the countries. The dispute, which began in April 2020 after Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an investigation into the origins of Covid-19, has cost the two countries around $ 4 billion. Josh Frydenberg, Australian treasurer, this month accused Beijing of trying to exert “political pressure” with sanctions on Australian products.

And Sino-Indian relations have also been strained, with recent fatal deadlocks at their long-contested border atop the Himalayas.

Lee Hudson contributed to this report.

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