UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, when speaking on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday, fired back at Beijing’s assertions that the new AUKUS partnership between Washington, London, and Canberra is a display of a “Cold War mentality”.
“It’s probably a Cold War view to describe it as a Cold War”, Wallace retorted, arguing that Beijing was “embarking on one of the biggest military spends in history”. He continued: “Obviously it is engaged in some disputed areas. Our partners in those regions want to be able to stand their own ground”.
Wallace went on to assure that the alliance is “not about antagonizing anyone”, and asserted that the new defense pact is “not only about China”.
Beijing is not the only one triggered by the new defense group, as it rose some eyebrows in France. On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defence Minister Florence Parly issued a joint statement, describing the trilateral deal between Washington, London, and Canberra as “regrettable”.
“The American choice to push aside a European ally and partner like France from a structural partnership with Australia at a time we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region […] shows a lack of coherence that France can only acknowledge and regret”, the statement said.
Despite the division of the global community on the new defense pact, Australia’s foreign minister touted the agreement as a “real reorientation” of the UK’s foreign and security policy following Brexit, welcoming the new partnership with Australia.
Biden, for his part, said that the goal of AUKUS is to ensure allies in the region have capabilities to counter “rapidly evolving threats”, and addressed concerns about Austrialia’s nuclear-powered submarines. According to the US president, “these are conventionally-armed submarines that are powered by nuclear reactors”, meaning that the submarines will not be equipped with nuclear weapons. With regard to France, Biden argued that Paris already enjoys a “substantial” presence in the Indo-Pacific and plays a key role in strengthening regional security.