China on Thursday expressed outrage at a new security pact between Australia, the U.K. and the U.S., blasting what it considers a new Western provocation and singling out Australian troops as the first to die as a result of “Beijing’s countermeasures so as to send a warning to others.”
“Australia has turned itself into an adversary of China,” China’s English-language Global Times, considered a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party, proclaimed in an editorial Thursday morning.
“If Australia dares to provoke China more blatantly,” it added, “or even find fault militarily, China will certainly punish it with no mercy.”
The violent rhetoric came a day after the leaders of the three Western powers announced the new alliance, dubbed “AUKUS.” In joint remote remarks Thursday evening, President Joe Biden noted that the awkward AUKUS acronym “sounds strange” but that the effort nonetheless “will update and enhance our shared ability to take on the threats of the 21st century just as we did in the 20th century: together.”
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The pact represents an apparent consolation as the U.S. has yet to accomplish its stated goal of securing a broader alliance to contain China’s ambitions, namely to include regional powers Japan and India.
But it succeeded in seizing Beijing’s attention, particularly the new provision that the U.S. will share technology with Australia for it to build a nuclear-propelled submarine – only the second time ever, after the U.K., that Washington has done so. Officials in Australia and the U.S. have insisted this does not represent an attempt by Canberra to eventually field nuclear weapons, though Chinese officials have subsequently doubted that assertion.
“The nuclear submarine cooperation among the US, the UK & Australia severely undermines regional peace & stability, intensifies arms race and undercuts intl non-proliferation efforts,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lijian Zhao wrote in a tweet. “It’s highly irresponsible and shows double standards on using nuclear export for geopolitical games.”
None of the Western leaders late Wednesday mentioned China in their prepared remarks, and an American official speaking on the condition of anonymity stressed to reporters early Wednesday that “this partnership is not aimed or about any one country; it’s about advancing our strategic interests, upholding the international rules-based order, and promoting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.”
“This is all about developing an integrated, effective web of engagement about sustaining the operating system of Asia, the rules-based order that has been so good for all of us over these many years, and we hope into the future,” the official said.
But there is no doubt that China serves as the primary focus of the new arrangement, particularly as Biden and other leaders have singled out Beijing as the main source of confrontation to these stated goals for maintaining order in the Asia-Pacific region and other parts of the world where China has ambitions.
And regardless of their intention, China made clear its own interpretation of the security pact, its effects and how it plans to respond, beginning with Australia.
“If it acts with bravado to show its allegiance to the US and takes the most prominent position in the US’ anti-China strategy, especially by being militarily assertive, then Canberra will most likely become a target of Beijing’s countermeasures so as to send a warning to others,” the Global Times wrote. “Thus, Australian troops are also most likely to be the first batch of Western soldiers to waste their lives in the South China Sea.”
“Since Australia has become an anti-China spearhead, the country should prepare for the worst,” it concluded.
The latest confrontation represents hardly the first time China has attempted to single out for punishment the lead Western country in its neighborhood. In May 2020, for example, it began imposing crippling boycotts on Australian goods such as beef and barley after leaders there called for the World Health Organization to investigate the origins of the coronavirus – a form of retaliation that spurred widespread economic concerns in Australia.
And in some ways it may serve as a test case for how China follows through on threats it makes to countries that break from historic impartiality and align themselves with either superpower. Both the Trump and Biden administrations increasingly sought to militarize a loose partnership with Australia, Japan and India known as “The Quad,” even toying in recent months with the idea of expanding membership to other countries like the U.K.