AUKUS and the CPTPP: everything revolves around China


China’s request to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) just hours after the announcement of the new AUKUS (Australia, UK and US) tripartite security partnership has perhaps – or not – was a coincidence. Either way, both events illustrate the rapidly changing geostrategic environment in the Indo-Pacific region.

AUKUS is a crucial agreement – for all three parties.

The “forever” partnership is particularly important for Australia. For supporters, AUKUS is a cautious, practical and far-sighted response to the existential threat Australia perceives in the evolving and increasingly tense strategic environment emerging in the Indo-Pacific region. Like many, Australia is worried about Xi Jinping’s more belligerent approach taken by China. To meet this challenge, the United States remains its indispensable partner for Canberra.

For the United States, AUKUS is a victory. This illustrates the importance Washington attaches to deepening cooperation with its key allies and strengthening their military capabilities to help deter China’s security challenges in the region. Australia, a longtime trusted and strategically located Indo-Pacific ally, looms large in Washington’s regional calculations. The Quad (United States, Australia, Japan and India) whose leaders meet in Washington on September 24.

Early signs indicate that AUKUS will enjoy significant, if not full, bipartisan support in Australia.

And for the UK, AUKUS is a tangible expression of Britain’s post-Brexit global ambitions, reinforcing its refocus on the Indo-Pacific, complemented by trade deals with Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom. Australia. AUKUS also reaffirms the UK’s position as a close and trustworthy US partner.

International attention has focused on the commitment of the United States and the United Kingdom to cooperate to equip Australia with a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

This is undoubtedly an important decision – with major strategic and operational implications for Australia. With the planned acquisition of sea and air launched cruise missiles, nuclear-powered submarines will significantly enhance the long-range strike capabilities of the Australian Defense Force. Nuclear submarines offer superior speed, stealth and range.

There is still a lot of flesh to put on the bones of AUKUS. The nuclear submarine deal is just the initial dividend. Even more important is the deeper tripartite cooperation that AUKUS foreshadows in developing advanced capabilities in areas such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

Early signs indicate that AUKUS will enjoy significant, if not full, bipartisan support in Australia. It seems remarkable, however, that Canberra signed this “historical»Agreement without any prior parliamentary or public discussion.

AUKUS is not without its criticisms and risks.

Beijing describes its candidacy for CPTPP membership as a demonstration of China’s commitment to work together to promote rules-based economic and trade cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (Ishant Mishra / Unsplash)

It represents a decisive shift towards closer Australian military integration and foreign policy alignment with the United States. In a time of continuing political division and uncertainty in the United States, some argue that AUKUS is a gamble on the U.S. ‘ability to sustain in the Indo-Pacific.

Acquiring nuclear rather than conventional submarines will make Australia dependent on the United States and the United Kingdom to support nuclear propulsion technology. AUKUS could raise US expectations of closer alignment and support from Canberra – and not just China. AUKUS may therefore prove to be binding on Australia in its foreign policy in the broad sense.

Especially if domestic production is a priority, Australia’s new submarines won’t be arriving any time soon. Meanwhile, any capacity gap will likely be filled by expanded deployments of US naval and air assets to Australia.

The international reaction to AUKUS has been mixed. China predictably responded negatively to AUKUS.

The submarine deal may raise proliferation issues in some neighborhoods, especially given the likely use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel. Australia’s acquisition of cruise missiles could be challenged under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). These problems are manageable in Australia’s case, although they risk setting unnecessary precedents.

The international reaction to AUKUS has been mixed.

China predictably responded negatively to AUKUS. But since Australia will only acquire capabilities that China itself has developed at a steady pace in recent years, Beijing is hardly in a good position to criticize Canberra. And warnings that AUKUS makes Australia a target for Chinese missiles in any conflict with America are commonplace, as existing US strategic facilities in Australia already carry that risk.

On the other side of the ledger, Japan and Taiwan strongly welcomed AUKUS as visible proof of their willingness to resist China’s assertion.

The non-inclusion of Five Eyes partner New Zealand in AUKUS has been described by Wellington and most commentators as unsurprising, given its non-nuclear status and limited military weight, although criticized by some as disappointing. In the longer term, AUKUS ‘focus on developing advanced defense capabilities, such as cybersecurity and AI, risks presenting potential interoperability gaps for New Zealand, given its links close security with the three AKUS partners, in particular Australia.

AUKUS provoked a strongly negative reaction from Paris, for commercial (Australia canceling its contract to purchase conventional submarines from France) and strategic reasons, since the Australian agreement was a key element in strengthening the Indo-Pacific profile of France.

The European Union was also caught off guard, which released its own Indo-Pacific strategy on the same day as the AUKUS announcement. Having been blinded by the hasty US withdrawal from Afghanistan and earlier by the US about-face on the Nord Stream 2 project to bring Russian gas from the Arctic to Germany, AUKUS raised eyebrows on European allies in the United States. United States and inevitably fueled calls for greater strategic autonomy.

There is a disconnect between China’s coercive security posture and its adherence to multilateral economic cooperation in the region.

In stark contrast to its uncompromising approach to security in the region, Beijing describes its candidacy to join the CPTPP as a demonstration of China’s commitment to work together to promote rules-based Asia-Pacific economic and trade cooperation.

It is ironic that the CPTPP – initially seen by the United States (if not other parties) in the context of the fight against China, but from which the Trump administration has moved away – is now seen by China as a means of strengthening its economic weight and its influence in the Region.

This is in addition to the conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an even broader trade agreement, also including China (but not the United States), aimed at promoting improved regional trade flows and the supply chain connectivity.

There is a disconnect between China’s coercive security posture and its adherence to multilateral economic cooperation in the region.

Unfortunately, Washington’s non-engagement in these regional economic integration initiatives prevents the United States from effectively challenging the inconsistency of Beijing’s approach. By focusing narrowly on China’s security deterrence, while avoiding a broader path that encompasses economic and trade integration with the East Asian states, Washington may be missing a trick.

Meanwhile, assuming CPTPP members agree to open membership talks with China (and the UK is ahead of Beijing in the queue), there will be some tough issues to negotiate. , such as state subsidies, dispute resolution and cross-border data flows.

Buckle up then: with AUKUS and the CPTPP in play, the changing and rapidly evolving geostrategic environment in the Indo-Pacific region is about to get even busier.


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