Wednesday, December 8

Nuclear Submarines Won’t Deter China From Conflict With Taiwan, But Australia Has An Alternative Arsenal | Jonathan Pearlman

FOr an emerging superpower prone to smug outbursts and coercive retaliation, China’s initial response to the recent announcement of the new three-way security pact between Australia, the United States, and Britain seemed surprisingly tepid.

Hours after the trio introduced their “forever partnership,” known as Aukus, China formally requested to be allowed to join an 11-member Asia-Pacific trade grouping, the Comprehensive Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). .

This was a strange move by China, the request for which requires the consent of members of the group, which includes Australia. In recent years, China has responded to Canberra’s previously perceived slights by imposing $ 20 billion in economic sanctions and freezing ministerial contacts.

Now, he was effectively seeking a favor from Canberra, even though Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had just announced plans to buy nuclear submarines and noted that he was seriously preparing for the possibility of US-China tensions spilling over. in a war.

But China’s request to join the trade pact was carefully timed. It allowed China to demonstrate its commitment to global free trade and to contrast its approach with that of the United States, which withdrew from the group.

More significantly, the China app was designed primarily to avoid a long-awaited offer from Taiwan to join. China, which regards Taiwan as a separatist province, regularly tries to prevent other states from dealing with Taiwan on an official level.

Six days after China applied to join the CPTTP, Taiwan submitted its own application.

Taiwan’s chief trade negotiator John Deng told reporters: “If China joins first, the case for Taiwan’s membership should be quite risky. This is pretty obvious. “

This dispute over the CPTTP attracted less attention than the Aukus announcement, but it does highlight a crucial feature of the alarming rise in tensions between China and the United States.

China, in its quest for “reunification” with Taiwan, is playing on two separate battlefields.

First, and most blatantly, it is expanding its army at a frantic rate and using its air and navy forces to intimidate Taiwan. Last week, for example, China set an almost daily record for combat aircraft interventions in Taiwan’s air defense zone.

Last Friday, China’s national day, it sent 38 planes to Taiwan; on Saturday, it was 39; on Monday, there were 56. The United States, a close sponsor and arms supplier to Taiwan, described the flights from China as “provocative.”

But China is also operating on a separate front. It is trying to isolate Taiwan on the world stage and ensure that Taiwan’s status is degraded in the international diplomatic and economic arenas. So, as Morrison was still talking to the Australian media about Aukus and submarines, the Chinese trade minister wrote to the New Zealand government, which has formal documents related to the CPTTP, to join the group.

The lesson for Australia is that, as ties between the United States and China deteriorate, it must avoid choosing the wrong battlefield.

As the gap between the Chinese and Australian military widens, it is unlikely that Australia’s ability, even with a fleet of nuclear submarines, supplied by its Aukus partners, will determine the balance of military power in the Indo- Peaceful.

Despite being the 12th largest military spending country in the world, Australia’s annual defense budget is now only 10% of China’s.

Australia plans to have the first of its eight nuclear submarines in the water by the late 2030s. China, which has the world’s largest navy, currently has a fleet of around 62 submarines, including 12 nuclear-powered ones.

By 2040, it is expected to have 26 nuclear submarines. The United States currently has 68 submarines; all are nuclear powered. Australia’s submarines and other forces can be used for a variety of purposes, including defending the Australian mainland, but, in the terrifying event of a confrontation over Taiwan, they will not be decisive.

However, on the other battlefield, Australia’s capabilities are more impressive. In the realm of international trade and diplomacy, Australia, which is the world’s 13th largest economy and historically a committed supporter of strong international institutions, has genuine influence.

Australia has worked to create and strengthen bodies such as APEC, which includes China and Taiwan, and the G20, which includes only China.

The CPTTP exists in large part because Australia, along with Japan, worked to save it after Donald Trump withdrew in 2017. Now China is looking to join.

The Chinese embassy, ​​which published a 14-point list of complaints with Canberra, has written to the Australian parliament to present its case, saying that China’s membership “would bring great economic benefits.”

Australia responded hesitantly, insisting that China should not be allowed to join the CPTPP until it complies with its international trade obligations and lifts its current sanctions on Australian exports such as beef, wine and barley.

Australia will have more influence when considering whether to allow entry to Taiwan. China says Taiwan should not be allowed to join the group or any other official organization.

Australia should carefully deploy its influence in the international arena. You can try to encourage an easing of tensions between the United States and China and discourage provocations.

Taiwan warns that a war is coming. But Australia can do little to alter the course of a real conflict.

Instead, it can join with others in sending a strong message to China about the potential cost of an attempt to take Taiwan by force.

Australia’s submarines that have not yet been commissioned will not deter Beijing from military intervention, but it has an alternative arsenal that currently appears to be more successful in demanding China’s attention.

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