China’s sound and fury over Aukus will mean little for Australia ties |  Benjamin Herscovitch

China’s sound and fury over Aukus will mean little for Australia ties | Benjamin Herscovitch

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IAside from former Prime Minister Paul Keating’s anti-Aukus spray at the National Press Club on Wednesday, the most vocal criticism of this week’s trilateral submarine deal between Australia, the United States and the UK may have come from Beijing.

Repeating now familiar talking points, the Chinese government on Tuesday decried Aukus as an example of “typical Cold War mentality” and a threat to both “regional peace and stability” and the “international regime of non-compliance”. nuclear proliferation”.

This stream of objections from the Chinese government is likely to turn into a flood as the Aukus takes shape.

Yet this rhetorical noise and fury means little to Australia-China relations. Although Beijing will continue to oppose Aukus, China is unlikely to undo the repair of bilateral relations in recent months.

Canberra’s decision to acquire nuclear-powered submarines was factored into Australia-China relations long before Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his US and UK counterparts took to the podium in San Diego this week.

Beijing began courting Canberra with softer messages as early as December 2021 – just months after news of Aukus broke in September of that year.

China’s shift towards softer diplomacy towards Australia gained momentum in the first half of 2022, culminating in a series of increasingly warm engagements between Australian and Chinese ministers and leaders from June 2022.

The Chinese government was keen to reconnect with Canberra, knowing full well that Australia had adopted Aukus on a bipartisan basis.

China is now also letting previously excluded Australian exports into its market, including what were once billion-dollar coal exports.

As with Aukus, Beijing has turned a blind eye to a wide range of other complaints against Canberra.

Australia continues its efforts to downplay China’s security role in the Pacific, maintain Australia’s military presence in the disputed South China Sea and gradually restrict market access for Chinese tech companies. Neither these disputed issues nor many others have prevented Beijing from re-establishing its ties with Canberra.

China decided it wanted to get relations with Australia “back on track” regardless of these deep and lingering points of disagreement.

Joint Aukus press conferences and submarine capability details should therefore not tempt Beijing to put Canberra back in the diplomatic and trade freezer.

Despite China’s harsh anti-Aukus rhetoric, Australia will likely be able to move forward with its nuclear-powered submarine project without disrupting the overall positive trajectory of bilateral relations.

Of course, this does not mean that China will abandon its opposition to Aukus.

Since Aukus was revealed, the Chinese government has made clear its deep distrust of Australia’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines.

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Beijing’s hostility to Aukus is unsurprising, especially given China’s goals of eventually taking Taiwan and building a “world-class army” capable of prevailing in military contingencies in its near region and in the -of the.

Unlike the diesel-electric submarines previously planned by Australia, the Aukus boats will be able to project power far into North Asia for long periods of time.

This does not mean that Australia would be obligated to support US forces in the event of a military confrontation with China to defend Taiwan.

But Beijing understands that these new submarines will eventually give Australian governments the ability to contribute significant additional forces to US-led military actions as far away as the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea.

Certainly, China would still prefer to annex Taiwan without a fight. As Avril Haines, the U.S. director of national intelligence, told the House Intelligence Committee last week, “It’s not our assessment that China wants to go to war.”

But Beijing aims to ensure that, if necessary, it has the ability to prevail in military contingencies in and around the Taiwan Strait.

If Australia chooses to deploy its nuclear-powered submarines to support a US-led effort to defend Taiwan, then Aukus will have made China’s military objectives harder to achieve.

With Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines potentially impinging on China’s pursuit of what it considers to be its “core interests” in Taiwan, Beijing will step up efforts to discredit Aukus.

The Chinese government will seek to stoke fears over nuclear proliferation and spread dubious claims that Australia and its Aukus partners have abrogated their international legal obligations.

Yet Aukus adds just one more item to the already long list of China’s complaints against Australia. These include everything from Australia’s cautious approach to approving Chinese investment to Canberra’s strong and public criticism of the Chinese government’s systematic human rights abuses in Xinjiang and elsewhere.

Like these other points of bilateral tension, Aukus’ latest announcements should not cause Beijing to rethink its decision to re-engage with Canberra.

So, to paraphrase Keating, China’s criticism of Aukus is likely to be just a tip and not an iceberg when it comes to the wider Australia-China relationship.

Dr Benjamin Herscovitch is a researcher at the Australian National University and author of Beijing to Canberra and Back, a newsletter chronicling Australia-China relations.

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