India shares challenges that prompted us to join AUKUS: Australian envoy
India shares the “challenging strategic environment” that prompted Australia’s move to forge a security alliance with the US and the UK, including territorial tensions across the Indo-Pacific and China’s massive military modernisation programme, Australian high commissioner Barry O’Farrell said on Friday.
The new military partnership called AUKUS will help improve Australia’s defence capabilities in line with the country’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update and will not affect the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad, which is more of a diplomatic forum, O’Farrell said during a virtual media briefing.
AUKUS was unveiled by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden against the backdrop of China’s assertive actions across the Indo-Pacific, and its first initiative is aimed at equipping Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.
India has chosen to maintain a studied silence on the new security alliance, apparently due to sensitivities related to the strategic situation in the region and ties with key partners. France, a key strategic ally for India, was angered by Australia’s decision to scrap a $90-billion programme to build 12 French-designed conventional submarines and instead opt for nuclear-powered vessels.
Explaining the rationale behind the creation of AUKUS, O’Farrell said: “The decision reflects a much more challenging strategic environment, an environment we share with India, where great power competition is intensifying, where territorial tensions in the South China Sea, Taiwan and elsewhere are becoming more challenging.”
He said, “Indo-Pacific investment in military capability is proceeding at an unprecedented rate and of course that latter point is being driven by China, which has the largest military modernisation programme underway in the world.”
AUKUS is also about “ensuring we have capabilities that contribute, along with India and other countries, to deterring the types of behaviour that threatens the peace and security in the Indo-Pacific today and in the future”, he added.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to brief him about AUKUS before the formal announcement was made by the three countries. Similar calls were made by Australian defence minister Peter Dutton and foreign minister Marise Payne to their Indian counterparts.
Amid reports that the new alliance was aimed at balancing China across the region, especially in light of Beijing’s aggressive and assertive actions in recent years, O’Farrell noted that AUKUS was not directed against any particular country or meant “to provoke any particular regional power”. It was, he said, based on a “sober assessment of the capability required to meet a more challenging strategic environment”.
“As a three-ocean nation, nuclear-powered submarines will provide Australia with a capability it now believes it needs for its defence because they can travel faster, they can travel for a longer range and they have greater power and endurance,” he said.
Strengthening Australia’s defence capabilities through nuclear-powered submarines will be part of the country’s “contribution to a secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific”, and this capability will increase Canberra’s “strategic weight and allow us to more effectively shape our region’s future trajectory”, O’Farrell said.
“Australia is striving to retain an inclusive regional order where the rights of all states are respected, whether they are big states or small states,” he said.
Australia wants to “contribute to strategic reassurance measures that ensure no one country believes they can advance their strategic ambitions through conflict and it’s not about seeking to provoke any particular regional power”, he added.
Asked specifically about the fallout of France’s anger over the cancellation of Australia’s conventional submarine deal, O’Farrell said his country wants to continue working with India, France and Indonesia to ensure the Indo-Pacific remains free and inclusive.
He acknowledged that Australia’s decision to move towards acquitting nuclear-powered submarines had not “been welcomed by France”, but this should not affect engagement in terms of working for security across the Indo-Pacific. Australia’s decision will ensure the trade across the Indian and Pacific Oceans remains secure for all countries, he said.