The Aukus-Quad Combo

The Aukus-Quad combo offers America an easy escape route if the Indo-Pacific region boils over. In addition it follows the centuries old American diplomatic and war principle that it should not engage with an enemy directly which could attack the mainland America. Through the combo, the US is manipulating other countries to stand ready for a face off with China in the Indo-Pacific

By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

Opinion

New Zealand in AUKUS ‘No Guarantee’, But Discussions Active

With China already flexing its muscles in the East and South China Seas, the Australia, India, Japan and the US Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also termed ‘Quad’, was initiated in 2007 by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with the support of Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US Vice President Dick Cheney. Aside from a periodic strategic security dialogue, Quad also holds joint maritime exercises, ostensibly against an aggressive China.

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On September 15, 2021, ‘Aukus’, a trilateral security partnership between Australia, the UK and the US was announced for the Indo-Pacific region. Under this partnership, the UK and the US are assisting Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines. In addition, cooperation in advanced cyber, AI, quantum technologies, hypersonic, electronic warfare and undersea capabilities is extended to Australia.

In his recent State of the Union address, the POTUS Joe Biden said he had revitalised America’s partnerships and alliance in the Indo-Pacific; India, Australia, Japan South Korea and the Pacific Islands – standing up against China’s unfair economic practices, as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits. At the same time, Biden said he wants completion with China, not conflict. This is also a statement of facts that the US has historically never attacked a country which can hit back mainland America. In this backdrop, the US wants to establish as many proxies in the Indo-Pacific as a front to fight China.

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The US has historically never attacked a country, which can hit back mainland America. In this backdrop, the US wants to establish as many proxies in the Indo-Pacific as a front to fight China

With all three Aukus member countries facing elections over the next 14 months (last being Australia in May 2025), all out efforts are being made to expand the trilateral security organisation, accompanied with fear that Donald Trump could scrap Aukus if he wins the presidential race. There is speculation that Canada, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea could join Aukus, which would earn political brownies for Biden. China has warned New Zealand to refrain from doing so. Due to the proximity with China, it may be easy for the US to persuade Japan and perhaps even South Korea to join Aukus.

In February this year, the US Senate unanimously passed the ‘Quad Bill’, officially called the “Strengthen US-Australia-Japan-India Cooperation’ Bill; directing the US State Department to submit a roadmap (within 180 days) to increase engagement with the Quad members. There was also news that for the first time, the US would share jet engine technology with a country (India), with which it does not have a defence treaty. But whether the so-called 100 percent technology transfer will include the critical core of the engine remains highly uncertain. Moreover, under the US-India Defence Technology & Trade Initiative (DTTI) signed years back, no technology has yet been transferred to India.

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The economic linkage to geopolitical manipulation can hardly be ignored. Europe is learning it the hard way with economies weakening due to the US-led war on Russia using Ukraine as the proxy, plus the resultant European de-industrialisation making Europe more dependent on the US. Australia has been witnessing this. China is Australia’s largest two-way trading partner, accounting for 26 percent of the country’s goods and services trade in the 2022 and 2023 financial years. In 2023, US$ 229.2 billion China-Australia bilateral trade saw an increase of 4.1 percent from 2023.

There is speculation that Canada, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea could join Aukus, which would earn political brownies for Biden

Australia must keep pleasing Washington, but because of the economic relationship, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited Beijing and Shanghai in November 2023 – first by an Australian prime minister in seven years. Now China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has been invited to visit Australia, with Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong extending a formal invitation to Wang Yi for visiting in the latter half of March 2024 to discuss unresolved issues. Wang is expected to spend one day each in Canberra and Sydney.

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Notably, China is pushing for Australia to sign a new Science and Technology Agreement (replacing a similar China-Australia 40-years old agreement), which has been held up by Australia due to pressure from the US. Australia wants China to lift sanctions on Australian wine and lobsters during Wang’s visit. America would naturally want to use Australia as a proxy (same as Japan or India) to fight China in the Indo-Pacific. As such, the Biden Administration would exert maximum pressure on Albanese not to normalise relations with Beijing.

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Concurrently, the UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron and UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps have dashed off to Australia to hold meetings with their Australian counterparts, as also meet Prime Minister Albanese, who is expected to provide a public update on the core submarine project amid fears in Canberra that America’s decision to scale down submarine production could put the Aukus deal in jeopardy.

There was speculation that for the first time, the US would share jet engine technology with a country (India), with which it does not have a defence treaty. But whether the so-called 100 percent technology transfer will include the critical core of the engine remains highly uncertain

According to American analysts, the US defence-industrial base is not up to the challenge of building a military capable of deterring China in the Indo-Pacific, which calls for a two-fold solution: expand indigenous defence-industrial base and expand the defence industrial base in collaboration with its ‘closest allies’; with Japan and South Korea at the top of the list licensed for co-production, who together comprise 40 percent of the world’s shipbuilding and have a strong incentive to support the growth in capacity of the US Navy.

Speaking at the Jaipur Literature Festival on February 4, 2024,  US Ambassador to India, Eric Garcetti said that India holds the leading role in the Quad, likening it to being in the ‘driving seat’, while the US  occupies the seat next to it with the ‘corrective steering wheel’. He highlighted that it is “India’s responsibility to assertively delineate what we want to do with the Quad”. So, isn’t the warming up towards India akin to fattening the turkey before Thanksgiving – an India-China war?  The US wants to draw maximum strategic and economic benefit, without the US getting into direct conflict with China.  The US would hope to weaken China in the process although its aim to similarly weaken Russia through the Ukraine War has resulted in the opposite.

US Ambassador to India, Eric Garcetti said that India holds the leading role in the Quad, likening it to being in the ‘driving seat’, while the US occupies the seat next to it with the ‘corrective steering wheel’

In the Western Pacific, China merrily developed new shoals and islands, militarising the entire region, as it wanted over the decades. But the US did precious little to physically prevent Beijing’s expansionist designs beyond rhetoric and occasional freedom of navigation patrols – FONOPS. China on the other hand remained aggressive, force landing a US aircraft, flying dangerously close to US aircraft on other occasions, firing laser beams at US pilots and rubbishing the ICJ ruling in favour of the Philippines. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent statement in Manila underscoring America’s ‘iron-clad commitment’ to defend the Philippines, in case of an armed attack following clashes between the Chinese and Filipino Coast Guard boils down to supporting Manila without the US firing a single bullet at the Chinese.

The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal.