Panel: Technical pacts like AUKUS dull China in the Pacific

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Australian, Indian and US ships pass each other as fixed-wing planes from the Indian and US navies fly over during Malabar 2020 on November 20, 2020. U.S. Navy photo

Alliances like the Australia-UK-US deal that will provide the Royal Australian Navy with a nuclear submarine program are bringing allies together by sharing technology in the face of a competitor like China, a US expert said on Thursday. security issues in the South China Sea.

Michael Dahm, a retired naval intelligence officer now at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, said “more alliances are better” and cited existing US treaties with Japan and South Korea as helping to strengthen the interoperability through technology and exercising with each other. He said the informal grouping called the “Quad” was moving in this direction.

Leaders of the United States, Australia, Japan and India – the “Quad” – meet in Washington this week to discuss common security concerns, impact and response to the pandemic COVID-19 and climate change.

An UKUS advantage for London is more of a reason to look to the Indo-Pacific, said Blake Herzinger, who has also served as a naval intelligence officer and is now part of the Pacific Forum, during the online forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But to be effective, allies and partners must know how to work together across a range of activities and be able to convey and share information.

Over the past decade, China’s build-up of man-made islands to bolster its South China Sea claims and Beijing’s rejection of a UN tribunal’s rejection of those claims have raised alarm bells in the United States. Indo-Pacific and Washington.

The island reefs are also 700 miles from mainland China and are part of an extended defense plan. They were built not only to establish a presence to expand fishing rights and energy exploration and development, Dahm said.

Military capabilities, “especially long-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance” and communications networks, allow China to operate an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea while keeping an eye on maritime traffic commercial and naval across the Straits of Malacca. .

Dahm stressed that these island reefs are essential outposts for Chinese patrol and intelligence-gathering planes, in addition to ports for its expanding navy and critical communication nodes with its maritime militia ships operating nearby. from the Philippines.

On several reefs, large garages could potentially house anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles. Dahm said the islands are sturdy and large enough to move missiles on mobile launchers to make targeting more difficult.

Island reefs have changed the security situation throughout the South China Sea.

Any attack on the mainland would now have to “go through layers and layers of missiles to get there” and also face massive military escalation on Hainan Island, about 20 miles from the coast, Dahm said. Although “China is still contested” in the underwater realm, the island reefs give Beijing dominance in the air and on the surface.

Man-made islands “are there for many purposes” including the projection of power to intimidate neighbors like Vietnam and the Philippines.

Bich Tran, of CSIS’s Southeast Asia program, said that since Vietnam’s border clashes in the 1980s with China and Beijing sending an oil rig into its territorial waters seven years ago, Hanoi has realized “that he needed to modernize his forces” and to increase his expenses. Security.

With defense budgets now at 2% of gross domestic product, Hanoi has turned “primarily to Russia” to update its maritime forces. Agreements with Moscow have brought Vietnam to six submarines “equipped with Russian cruise missiles”.

She added that India was working with Vietnam to strengthen its submarine capabilities.

Tran said the United States sent two retired coast guards to help Hanoi patrol its waters, as well as patrol boats and technology to improve its maritime awareness. She added that South Korea and Japan are helping to modernize Vietnamese naval and maritime law enforcement vessels and train its police, coast guard and naval forces.

But the reality, even with a new commitment from Washington and London to a “free and open Indo-Pacific” through the AUKUS treaty and their freedom of navigation operations, “Beijing is spending much more than Vietnam” to modernize and expand his strengths. .

So far, Tran has said Hanoi has been silent on the new treaty.

As to the possibility of an “Afghan dividend” from America devoting more attention and resources to the Indo-Pacific, Herzinger said “the future is cloudy.” He said the results of US efforts after the September 11, 2001 attacks to get nations in the region to adapt high-tech systems to fight transnational terrorism were “dismal.”

When host countries said they were not interested in high tech or could not maintain or operate these systems, the United States gradually shifted to more training to meet their needs and to their maritime awareness programs.

The position of this shift in the Biden administration’s budget priorities for the future is unclear.

When asked if the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Pacific Island States can choose the path forward to increase their own security, Herzinger said he would invest in sending more US coastguards in the region and in the Pentagon using more commercial communications and information networks to help other countries because they are more familiar with this hardware and software.

In assessing the big power competition with Beijing, “we tend to fight stuff with stuff,” rather than putting strategy to work even operationally, Dahm said. “We must make China doubt” that it can hold or achieve information superiority in a conflict.

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