France expressed its unhappiness after a new defense and intelligence alliance was announced yesterday called the AUKUS agreement, in which France was left out, and aims to share defense and intelligence information between the U.S., U.K. and Australia. It is aimed at helping Australia gain a home built nuclear submarine industry within 18 months as the U.S. continues to counter increasing Chinese tension in the South China Sea. The U.S., U.K. and Australia announced the program at the same time with each leader appearing by video with the others.
France is the only European power in the Indo-Pacific region with roughly two million cities and 7,000 military personnel. “The regrettable decision that has just been announced regarding the FSP program only reinforces the need to make the issue of European strategic autonomy loud and clear,” said France in a statement. France added that it was unhappy at being left out of the agreement. French critics say that France and Germany have been fairly soft on China and seldom take any public opposition to China’s actions other than minor lip service. Both countries have significant trade with China and a higher portion of their individual economies are exposed to Chinese influence when compared to the United States.
“The move, the agreement, is an overlay to existing protocols and agreements already in place. The so called ‘five-eyes’ agreement is an intelligence sharing agreement between the five main English speaking countries of the world, the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and has been in place since the cold war. This is really just an expansion of that from not just intelligence, but now to knowledge as well,” says David Hicks, a former Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy and a defense researcher.
Over the last decade China has increased its territorial claims over the majority of the South China Sea, infringing on several other country’s territories in what China calls the 9-dash line. China began pushing its claims after the discovery of oil and natural gas under the South China Sea. The Philippines took China to the World Court and won, The Hague Court ruled that China’s claim to the expansive South China Sea is “not valid and without merit”. Since then, China has been building artificial islands. During Obama’s time in office China said the islands were purely for civil and residential use and would never be militarized and are to aid maritime traffic that passes through one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. The Obama Administration didn’t believe that and began the U.S. Military’s focus on China and the Pacific region. Since then, China has militarized the islands, but then said it was purely for self defense. Just recently China said all airplanes and ships passing through the South China Sea must identify themselves and inform China if they are carrying certain materials, weapons or other cargo.
Australia under current Prime Minister Scott Morrison has ramped up its active support and participation with the United States in confronting China. Despite treats by China to reduce commercial trade with Australia, Morrison has ordered Australia to participate with the U.S. in “freedom of navigation” exercises where the U.S. Navy and its allies sail through the South China Sea, often coming within 12 miles of the islands that China has been building, and refusing to identify themselves or comply with new Chinese made regulations saying they are following international maritime law and indirectly saying they do not recognize China’s artificial islands as sovereign territory.
In addition to natural resources being discovered under the South China Sea, China is also trying to flex its muscles as the country has grown to become the world’s second largest economy. Chinese growth has come at the expense of human rights and China’s own international agreements. When the British turned Hong Kong over to China in 1997, China agreed to a “one country, two systems” agreement where it would let Hong Kong be self governing, with democracy and freedoms of the press and personal liberties. Over time, China has slowly become more involved in Hong Kong’s policies to where China now actively suppresses pro-democracy advocated, decides who can run for political office, and has imposed a national security law the says anyone speaking out against China is guilty of treason.
The U.S. has China surrounded. China has sought to expand its military influence, in part, because it is surrounded by the United States and because it seeks to become a global power, spreading its version of a better world and to find and influence new markets as advanced and industrial countries have begun to sour on China. The U.S. maintains sizable military bases or activities in South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, Australia, Diego Garcia, and other areas. To date, France has chosen not to be actively involved in the China-Pacific area issues despite having far flung territories in the Pacific.