In September, the world was told about the establishment of the AUKUS defense alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Even the official communiqués voiced rather harsh statements that the region had become a security challenge, including actions in cyberspace. There is no need to think long about who these countries are going to ally against.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Minister for Defence of Australia Peter Dutton, and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia Marise Payne in Washington.
Beijing threatens Taiwan; acts like an elephant in a china shop in the shelf area against Vietnam; violates human rights in Hong Kong; enters the territorial waters of the Philippines. And most importantly, it is actively developing the aircraft carrier fleet and launching nuclear submarines that, in theory, are capable of threatening the US aircraft carrier groups. Now the PRC has up to 10 nuclear submarines, but a base is being built on the island of Hainan, hulls have already been laid—and in the foreseeable future this number will double. Also there are aircraft carriers type 03 on the stocks in Shanghai and Dalian—in the coming years the largest ships in the Chinese Navy with electromagnetic catapults, capable of accommodating early warning aircraft and anti-submarine machines. It is still too early to challenge Washington's 60 nuclear submarines and 11 aircraft carrier groups, but such a desire can be seen. Moreover, the United States cannot concentrate the entire group on the defense of the West Coast and allies on the Pacific Rim.
The Five Eyes alliance has long been operating in the Pacific Ocean—it is likely that it will finally take shape not only as an exchange of intelligence information, but also as a purely military alliance. Australia, despite its remoteness from geopolitical centers of power, has always actively participated in fateful events. Australian troops fought in two World Wars, in the Korean, Vietnam, and Iraqi campaigns thousands of kilometers from home, and this will be nothing new to them.
New Zealand is also actively drifting towards military cooperation with Britain and its neighbor—it is historically and geographically formed. Again, of the European countries, only France has a permanent presence in the region, which means that it is difficult to rely on Article 5 of NATO (collective defense). Most of the West infrastructure, combat units, and arsenals were deployed in the North Atlantic and Central Europe against the USSR. Now that Britain has returned to operations east of Suez by heaving off two aircraft carriers, its traditional allies in the region are also gearing up for a new Great Game.
Australia has ordered Tomahawk missiles from the United States and a surface ship for its destroyers and air basing for the Air Force. This means that Canberra will have tasks outside the scattering of islands in the north—there are simply no targets for such weapons. The largest order for submarines with Paris—for $66 billion for 12 submarines from the Naval Group—was canceled. It was concluded in 2016, and it is quite possible that they have already managed to build something, but the Australians deliberately went for lawsuits. Although all this is a matter of decades, until the submarines reach combat readiness. And France is blocking free trade negotiations between Australia and the EU right now.
But here, as always, there are nuances. For example, the fact that China imports 40% of liquefied gas for the needs of its economy from Australia—worth $10-11 billion a year. In principle, China is very dependent on sea trade—in 2019, $140 billion worth of food alone was imported into the country. Therefore, the PRC is preparing to defend its extended sea communications. In China it is called poetically—String of pearls. In practice, this means a base on the Spratly Islands hijacked from Vietnam—hangars for fighters, anti-ship missiles, and air defense. The Chinese have completed the construction of a huge base in Djibouti—with a pier capable of accomodating aircraft carriers. In Myanmar, a deep-sea port of Kyaukpyu worth almost a billion dollars is being built, and the base on the Cocos Islands is also being modernized—it can become an excellent supply point for submarines operating in the Strait of Malacca. Naturally, for a country that imports half of its oil and 10% of the world's agro-industrial complex, it is impossible to act without strengthening its ocean-going fleet.
But this is alarming for small players like New Zealand, whose food exports are tied to China by a third. Since there was an experience of the Empire of Japan interaction (that was suffocating from the lack of raw materials in the region) with its neighbors with the help of landing forces and occupation in the past. In order not to face a fleet of two dozen nuclear submarines in the minority, Canberra also begins an arms race, localizing American submarines at the enterprises of South Australia. Britain and the United States will actively invest in this project with money, specialists, and technologies in order to spread their costs of maintaining hegemony in the Pacific Rim onto Australia and prevent Beijing from reaching parity with the main players in the region.
In the second quarter of the 21st century, the balance of economic and geopolitical confrontation is increasingly shifting from the Old World to Asia. And it is not yet clear whether Beijing wants to defend its vast borders or will try to move them, but the West will restrain the growing appetites of the Celestial Empire.