Why are France and China seething at The Aukus alliance?

Australia, UK and US have signed a pact in order to strengthen their military ability. Called The Aukus pact, it will allow Australia to build nuclear powered submarines using the technology shared by the US.

For Australia, this is one of their biggest defence partnerships. In a tweet, their Prime Minister Scott Morrison wrote, “Today, Australia begins an enhanced trilateral security partnership with the UK and the US to enable deeper cooperation on security and defence capabilities. This is an historic opportunity for our countries to strengthen our nations’ security in uncertain times.”


Even though experts have suggested that the pact is a measure to counter the threat from China, the official word is different. White House press secretary Jen Psaki gave a statement that the pact is not about any one country. Instead, it’s an effort to promote peace in the Indo-Pacific region.


What is China saying?


Certainly, China is not pleased with the agreement. Their foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijan released a statement saying, “The export of highly sensitive nuclear submarine technology to Australia by the US and the UK proves once again that they are using nuclear exports as a tool for geopolitical game and adopting double standards.”


In Global Times (which is run by their government), a senior military expert anonymously claimed that the pact would put Australia at risk of a nuclear attack.


As of now, China has both nuclear-powered submarines and submarines that can launch a nuclear missile. In the Aukus alliance though, the three countries have agreed to not arm the new submarines with nuclear missiles.


Why is France feeling cheated?


French authorities are livid at being left out of the alliance. They’ve recalled their ambassadors in the US and Australia because they have now lost a $55 billion deal to build 12 submarines for Australia. “It's really a stab in the back. We had established a relationship of trust with Australia, this trust has been betrayed,” their Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Info radio.


“This is not over. We’re going to need clarifications. We have contracts. The Australians need to tell us how they’re getting out of it. We’re going to need an explanation. We have an intergovernmental deal that we signed with great fanfare in 2019, with precise commitments, with clauses, how are they getting out of it? They’re going to have to tell us. So this is not the end of the story,” Le Drian was quoted as saying in Politico.


The probable reason for Australia to ditch France like this is because they now have access to superior submarines. They were going to get 12 conventional diesel submarines which are far behind technologically. Instead of that, they are getting nuclear-powered submarines which use a highly coveted technology that’s available with only a few nations.


Is it good news for India?


Even though India has not made a comment on the pact, it is believed that the move is beneficial for them. They are involved in a border dispute with China and the Aukus pact will give them more time to develop maritime security.


“This would allow India to be more ambitious in its foreign policy and defence approach. As India's partners become more self-confident and assured of their defence capabilities, it allows India a greater strategic room to manoeuvre in the Indo-Pacific,” Harsh V Pant, a professor of international relations at King's India Institute told The Week.


All said and done, only time will reveal the implications of this alliance. It was important to sign this pact considering there needed to be something to check China’s aggression and expansion plans.


Perhaps, Australia could have been more diplomatic in dealing with France as it’s never good to let your allies down. For India though, this is a win-win situation.


References:

  1. Explained: The AUKUS agreement to equip Australia with n-subs, and why it has upset France (The Indian Express)

  2. Aukus: UK, US and Australia launch pact to counter China (BBC)

  3. France recalls ambassadors to US and Australia after Aukus pact (The Guardian)

  4. The AUKUS alliance is a win-win situation for India (The Week)