White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has stated that the United States has taken a “big bet” on the alliance by promising to share nuclear submarine technology with Australia under the AUKUS Security Pact.
- AUKUS has triggered a major diplomatic rift between Australia and France
- Sullivan said sharing sensitive military technology was a message to Australia and the world that the United States supports its allies
- He said a conflict between the US and China could be avoided despite “fierce competition”
Sullivan made the remarks after delivering a virtual speech to the Lowy Institute, declaring that the Biden administration was committed to rebuilding US diplomacy and domestic forces, while “turning the page” on an “overemphasis on military engagement.”
He also said that confrontation between the United States and China was not inevitable, promising that the US government would fight for its values and “compete vigorously” with Beijing, while trying to “responsibly” ensure that competition did not develop into conflict.
Sullivan’s speech comes in the wake of a furious diplomatic battle between Canberra and Paris over the federal government’s decision to drop a multi-billion dollar submarine contract with France and instead pursue a nuclear submarine program with the United States and Britain.
The United States has engaged in intense diplomacy to repair its relations with France after it struck out against all three AUKUS countries.
Late last month, US President Joe Biden told French President Emmanuel Macron that the handling of the AUKUS message was “clumsy” and said he was unaware that France had not been notified. the submarine decision.
But Mr Sullivan would not say whether the president’s comment was a critique of the Morrison administration, saying he kept his “eyes fixed on the present and the future.”
“My view – I know it comes out as a sincere avoidance, but an avoidance nonetheless – is that I just think there’s no point in revisiting how we got to where we are,” he said. he.
“In our opinion, we have issued a very strong and meaningful and meaningful action plan with the French on a number of issues, including related to the Indo-Pacific. And we are digging into the real work of AUKUS.”
Asked if the nuclear submarine announcement was a “major bet” on the alliance, Mr Sullivan said it proved the Biden administration was willing to support the rhetoric of action for key partners.
“It’s a big bet. The president would not just say to Australia but to the world that if you are a strong friend and ally and partner and you bet with us, we will bet with you,” he said.
The United States, Britain and Australia have set themselves an 18-month period to conclude an agreement on nuclear submarines.
The federal opposition has supported the shift to nuclear-powered technology, but has warned that the nation is now facing a looming capacity gap.
This is because the fleet’s existing Collins-class submarines may need to be rebuilt efficiently twice to keep them in operation until around 2040, when the new boats are due to arrive.
Sullivan said the United States was determined to keep its promise to help Australia acquire nuclear submarines, saying the countries would “travel together” on the project “literally for decades to come.”
“We are deeply committed now to doing the actual work to make this happen in a way that delivers the vision that our leaders laid out when they made the virtual event together back in September,” he told Lowy. Institute.
China is engaging in a massive military build-up, and the Morrison government says it needs the submarines because Australia is facing an increasingly uncertain and dangerous strategic environment.
The United States, China ‘have a choice’ to avoid conflict
While US-China relations have been cratering for the past few years, there are signs that both countries are now taking preliminary steps to intensify dialogue and reduce tensions.
Last week, Mr Sullivan met again with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Switzerland as the two countries continue to fight a wide-ranging dispute over trade, human rights, espionage, Taiwan and the AUKUS pact.
Overnight, the US and China also reached an agreement on climate change at the Glasgow summit, and there is growing speculation that Mr Biden could hold a virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping next week.
“From my perspective, all this talk is about the United States and China going into a new Cold War, or that we’re heading for conflict, or the Thucydides trap – we have the choice not to do that,” Mr Sullivan said. .
“Instead, we have the choice to move forward with what President Biden has called fierce competition. Where we will compete vigorously across multiple dimensions, including economics and technology. Where we will stand up for our values.”
He also said both countries would maintain a significant presence in the Indo-Pacific.
“We’ll have to manage a relationship with China and work with China on certain issues,” he told Lowy.
“But without apology to say, we want the rules of the road for all the issues that affect our citizens to fundamentally advance our interests and, as far as possible, reflect our values.”
While the Biden administration has sought to revive its diplomatic relations in Southeast Asia, several analysts say both the Trump and Biden administrations have neglected economic ties with the region.
The Trump administration pulled the United States out of the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) economic deal, and the Biden administration has shown little appetite for joining the successor agreement, the CP-TPP.
Sullivan said U.S. Trade Secretary Gina Raimondo would soon visit the region to discuss the administration’s regional economic strategy, but offered few specific details.
“We believe that there is an opportunity to put together a comprehensive vision and get a whole lot of countries in line around it. And then in the coming months we will come forward with that effort,” he said.
And while the US has pressured Australia to promise deeper reductions in CO2 emissions, Mr Sullivan did not criticize the Morrison government for failing to make a more ambitious 2030 commitment to the Glasgow climate summit.
Instead, he just said that countries representing about 65 percent of the global economy had set goals that “would keep (the world) within the 1.5 degree goal (to limit global warming).”
“Now that still means 35 percent of the world has not done it. And that means there is still a lot more work to do,” he said.