BANGKOK (AP) – With growing talks in favor of Taiwan, a new deal to supply Australia with nuclear submarines and the launch of a European strategy for greater engagement in the Indo- Pacific, the United States and its allies are asserting themselves more and more in their approach towards a rising China.
China bristled at these measures, and growing tensions between Beijing and Washington prompted UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres over the weekend to implore US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping to mend their relationship. “completely dysfunctional”, warning that they risked dividing the world.
As the United Nations General Assembly opened on Tuesday, the two leaders chose calming language, with Biden insisting that “we are not looking for a new cold war or a world divided into rigid blocs,” and Xi saying to the forum that “China has never invaded and will never invade or intimidate others or seek hegemony.
But the underlying issues have not changed, with China building its military outposts as it asserts its maritime claims on critical sea lanes, and the United States and its increasingly strong allies in its support for Taiwan, which China claims to be part of its territory, and the deepening of military cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.
China on Thursday sent 24 fighter jets to Taiwan in a large show of force after the island announced its intention to join a Pacific trade group, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership, to which China also asked to join.
On Friday, Biden welcomes leaders from Japan, India and Australia for a face-to-face quadrilateral security dialogue for broad discussions on the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, but also on how to keep the ‘Indo-Pacific, a vast region stretching from India to Australia, “free and open,” according to the White House.
It comes a week after the dramatic announcement that Australia would forgo a contract for conventional French submarines in favor of an Anglo-American offer of nuclear-powered ships, a bomb that has eclipsed the unveiling of the strategy of the European Union to strengthen political and defense ties. in the Indo-Pacific.
“One thing is for sure, everyone is looking to the Indo-Pacific,” said Garima Mohan, Asia program member at the German Marshall Fund think tank.
As partners pursue actions that play on their own strengths and needs, however, last week highlighted the lack of coordination as a networked security strategy develops, she said.
“Not everyone has the same assessment of the threat from China,” she said in a telephone interview from Berlin.
EU policy emphasizes the need for dialogue with Beijing, to encourage “China to play its role in a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region”, while at the same time proposing a “naval presence”. enhanced ”and enhanced security cooperation with regional partners.
He also notes China’s rise in military power and that “the show of force and growing tensions in regional hot spots such as the South and East China Sea, and the Taiwan Strait, may have a direct impact on European security and prosperity “.
Germany, which has close economic ties with China, received a wake-up call last week when China rejected its request for a stopover for the frigate Bavaria, which is currently maneuvering in the Indo-Pacific.
“China is telling them that this inclusive approach won’t work, so in a way it’s a wake-up call for Berlin,” Mohan said. “You have to take a stand, you can’t have your cake and eat it too, and if you have an Indo-Pacific strategy… you can’t make it neutral.”
Other EU countries, notably France, also sent naval assets for exercises in the Indo-Pacific, and Britain had an entire aircraft carrier strike group conducting exercises during several months as London continues the new tilt towards the region recommended by a recent British government. defense and foreign policy review.
China’s Foreign Ministry said after rejecting Bavaria’s stopover that it remained “willing to conduct friendly exchanges with Germany on the basis of mutual respect and trust,” but made it clear that ‘he was unhappy with the increased naval presence in the region.
“Individual powers … repeatedly sent military planes and warships to the South China Sea for some time in the name of exercising the freedom of navigation to build muscle, stir up trouble and deliberately provoking conflicts over maritime matters, ”spokesman Zhao Lijian said. “China’s determination to safeguard national and territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests is unwavering and will continue to properly manage disputes with the countries concerned through consultations and negotiations.”
Beijing has been less reserved in its reaction to the submarine deal with Australia, under which the United States and Britain will help Canberra build nuclear-powered submarines, calling it ” highly irresponsible ”and claiming that it“ would seriously damage regional peace and stability ”.
By signing the pact with the United States and Britain, Australia canceled a $ 66 billion deal with France for diesel-powered submarines, infuriating Paris, which recalled its ambassadors in Washington and Canberra and suggested he questioned the whole cooperative effort to blunt China’s growing influence. .
While clearly upset by the surprise deal, many observers have suggested that France’s scathing backlash may be directed more towards a domestic audience, where President Emmanuel Macron faces a re-election bid at the start of the year. next.
But there was a distinct disappointment that the United States seemed to ignore France’s engagement in the region by not informing them in advance, said Laurence Nardon, an expert at the French Institute of International Relations.
“There was a way to do it while keeping Europeans in the know,” she said. “The Indo-Pacific is also important for the EU; it is not one or the other.
In a call with Macron on Wednesday evening, Biden reaffirmed “the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region,” according to a joint statement.
More than just a decision to prosecute nuclear submarines, the deal was a clear signal of Australia’s long-term commitment to be on the US camp on Chinese policy, said Euan Graham, an expert on China. Singapore International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“The sub’s decision represents a categorical doubling of the Australian-American alliance by the two countries,” he said in an analysis of the deal.
When introducing the pact, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison hinted at the long-term nature, saying that “basically today’s announcements are about the oldest of friendships, strongest values and the deepest commitment “.
The submarine deal looks likely to exacerbate the ongoing trade war between China and Australia, and Australia hopes to strike a free trade deal with Quad partner India to help offset the economic impact.
Although the outline of the European strategy takes time, the plan specifies how the EU is prepared to work with the United States and its allies in the region, which has been lacking in the past.
“There is a lack of understanding on the American side of why Europe is interested in the Indo-Pacific and exactly what kind of role it wants to play,” Mohan said in a podcast on the matter. “There is also a lack of understanding of the American approach.”
In the broad lines of the strategy, the EU generally seeks to pool its resources for greater effect and to work more closely with the Quad countries, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has 10 members, and others.
It also plans to strengthen on-going operations, such as the Atalanta counter-piracy mission off the Horn of Africa and in the western Indian Ocean, and the expansion of the maritime safety and security mission. of the EU in the enlarged Indian Ocean area, which has already been enlarged to South East Asia.
“The European assessment is very realistic about what they can and cannot do in the region,” Mohan said. “It’s about making sure that the resources, the spending, are well spent and have an impact. “