Deepening divide

Deepening divide

Through their joint launch of a trilateral defence pact, the AUKUS nations — Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States — have turned a new leaf in the book of geopolitical rivalry. China, the primary ostensible target of the AUKUS nations, was significantly irked by the formation of the grouping in September 2021. In what appeared to be a response to AUKUS, China formed the Solomon Islands Security Agreement in April 2022. Now, responding to the fresh trilateral defence fact, the Chinese government has floated caustic remarks about the nuclear-powered submarine deal between Australia, the US, and the UK. It remains to be seen what actions China will initiate on the ground to counter this move. One thing is certain though. The AUKUS trilateral defence pact will only deepen the divide between the West-led block and the emerging Eurasian block, which does not augur well for global stability in general and Indo-Pacific stability in particular. China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, said that the AUKUS nations, for securing their “geopolitical interests” are disregarding the “concerns of the international communities” and walking down the “path of error and danger.” China’s primary stated concern is that the deal will undermine the essence of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime by violating the NPT. While China may find it suitable to raise this aspect on the global stage, it has to be clarified that the AUKUS nations intend to power the submarines with nukes, and not arm them with the same. China’s hidden concern may be that the West, with this master move, has posed a serious challenge to China’s territorial expansion plans in Taiwan. The nuclear-powered submarines may help the West in securing a swift and deeper penetration in the South China Sea — rendering Chinese plans of establishing military dominance in the region vulnerable. One has to also understand the conundrum faced by China in the context of the centrality of Australia in the region. China has already expressed its assertiveness against one of its powerful immediate neighbours — India. It has been trying to forge a sustainable relationship with Australia, despite the fact that Australia is a part of both AUKUS and Quad, and that it shares a wide range of differences with China. Australia, which has good trade relations with China, appears to be a weak spot for China. The formation of AUKUS back in 2021 was a clear indication that the West, too, is equally keen on courting Australia as a sustainable ally against China. If one were to consider the composition of the Quad, for China, the United States is an arch-rival, India sees it as a competitor and Japan has been a traditional enemy. Surrounded by almost all sides, China might be seeing Australia as a soft ally. For the moment, however, the shared Anglican culture and cherished ideas of democracy and sovereignty appear to weigh higher for Australia. Furthermore, Australia has seen little vocal criticism from other stakeholders in the region. India has made no fuss about the new nuclear-powered submarines. If it props out that India was already taken into confidence through backchannel deliberations, then one should not be surprised. The stand of other countries like New Zealand, Malaysia, and Indonesia is more interesting. They appear to be caught in a dichotomy, looking at China and the West alternatively. Thanks to the geopolitical ambitions of selected nations, the world again appears to be in the grip of bipolarity. Against the Western and Anglican solidarity, one can easily see a turn of events resulting in the emergence of the Eurasian bloc where China, Russia, Pakistan, and certain powerful Middle East nations appear to be on the same page. The other nations appear more or less ambiguous in their strategy, finding it difficult to figure out which side they should align with. The cold-war mentality that countries usually refer to in contemptuous tones does not appear to be an out-of-the-world proposition today. The expanding blocs on both sides of the polar divide are an indication that the possibility of consensus and negotiation might be waning away. India, though hostile to China and Pakistan, is one of the saner voices with influence. India should avoid partisanship and relive its legacy of non-alignment. That might be the need of the hour!

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