31 May, 2023


AUKUS-Pocus Down Under & Its CACHUS-Pocus Sequel!

By Rajan Philips –

Rajan Philips

[Breaking News: This article was written on Friday (September 24) morning (10:30 UTC). News broke out later in the afternoon that a dramatic breakthrough had been achieved in the long standoff involving the detention in Canada of Meng Wanzhou, the high-profile Huawei executive, and the imprisonment of two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig (the two Michaels) in China. Within hours of the announcement, Ms. Meng flew to China from Vancouver and the two Michaels were flying back to Canada. Meng had been detained in Canada since December 1, 2018, on an extradition request from the US to face charges in America for allegedly violating US sanctions against doing business in Iran by companies registered in the US. China arrested and imprisoned the two Michaels in retaliation. The long-drawn-out legal battle over extradition had just been completed and the court ruling scheduled for October. Ever since President Biden’s election, Washington and Beijing had been under intense diplomatic pressure by Canada and allies to break the deadlock. But few expected the sudden announcement of a “deferred prosecution agreement” between the US government and Ms. Meng, without any admission of guilt on her part and free of any future prosecution. The prosecution deferral applies only to her company, Huawei. The Vancouver Supreme Court Justice took just 12 minutes to end the extradition process and let Ms. Meng go free. And fewer people expected China to release the Michaels simultaneously. Apparently, diplomacy worked. Within a week of AUKUS, that this article is about, there has been a diplomatic CACHUS – between Canada, China and the US.]

Anglo Musketeers of the South China Sea

No, this is not hocus-pocus, the old parody of liturgical transubstantiation. AUKUS is the  awkward abbreviation of what Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described as the “new enhanced trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.” Mr. Morrison was leading off the announcement of the partnership – joining by zoom from Australia, US President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Downing Street in London. The announcement, separated by time zones, officially at 5:00 PM, Wednesday, 15 September in Washington (late evening in London and Thursday morning in Canberra), came as a surprise to practically everyone other than the three leaders and their officials who had been working seemingly secretly for nearly six months to create the new alliance.

Neighbours (Canada, New Zealand) and close allies (France, Germany, the whole EU and Japan) were notified only hours before the announcement. China was not mentioned at all in any of the opening statements but clearly China is the sole reason for the new global troika. China may not have had a clue of what was coming and was duly outraged. But it was France’s fury that momentarily upstaged the announcement of the new partnership. It was double French fury – the fury of a friend scorned and for a contract reneged.

For at the heart of the new partnership is the supply of a nuclear-powered submarine fleet by the US to Australia, and the unilateral scuppering of Australia’s $40-$60 billion contract to buy French diesel submarines. According to France, the French manufacturer had offered to switch to supplying (the easier) nuclear-powered submarines instead of (the cumbersome) diesel submarines, but there was no response from Australia. Until the announcement of the tri-lateral partnership and a new source for providing nuclear-powered submarine technology. The submarines are to be built in Adelaide, Australia, with technology and support provided primarily by the United States.

In an unprecedented move, France recalled its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra, an affront that the US did not risk suffering even under Trump. UK was spared, because France viewed the Breixiter as a minor player in the new Indo-Pacific region. Matters have cooled since, with President Biden speaking with French President Macron and France agreeing to return its Ambassador to Washington next week. Not so with Australia. Macron is still not taking calls from Morrison. Prime Minister Johnson, in Washington for the annual UN session, has playfully told France to “get a grip.” But that will not take away the undiplomatic sloppiness in the announcement of an initiative, which The Economist has called a ‘tectonic shift’ in geopolitics akin to such historic milestones as the Suez crisis (1956), Nixon’s visit to China (1972), and the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989).


The motivations for the partnership are probably more parochial than what might be implied by its sweepingly consequential potentials. Of the three Anglo-musketeers, Australia probably was the keenest to pull this off. In recent decades, Australia has been trying to position itself quite comfortably on the fence with a policy of not choosing between the US and China. Australian governments have acknowledged that it was because of China that their continent was shielded from the 2008 global financial crisis. China is Australia’s biggest trading partner, and as a resource-based economy Australia has found an insatiable market in China.

Within the last five years, however, Australian leaders were becoming unsettled by China’s aggressive foreign policy, alleged political interferences, and maritime military expansions, as Xi Jinping gradually consolidated his power within China. In 2017, the Australian government banned foreign political donations, banned Huawei from 5G network initiatives, and blocked Chinese investments in many sectors. The last straw was Australia’s calling for an international inquiry into the origins of coronavirus in Wuhan. Beijing bullyingly hit back with import bans and increased tariffs, while China’s Ambassador in Canberra released a list of 14 Chinese grievances caused by Australia.

Australia is not the only country concerned with China’s maritime claims and intensions in the East and South China seas. There is already the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) group of four that includes Australia, United States, India and Japan, and Quad Plus with New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam added, to check China’s maritime claims and promote a “rules-based maritime order in the East and South China Seas.” Perhaps, Australia was looking for something more potent than Quad. The trilateral partnership idea is first said to have been mooted at the highest level when Prime Minister Morrison met Prime Minister Johnson and President Biden during the G7 gathering last June, in Cornwall, England, to which Australia was invited along with South Korea, India, and South Africa as observers.

Britain is a minor player in the AUKUS partnership. It is a major opportunity, however, for Prime Minister Johnson to project it, to his domestic audience, as a part of his government’s post-Brexit global reach for the UK. Few saw this coming in the US, and the currently embattled Biden Administration may have seen the AUKUS announcement as a timely diversion from the Afghan debacle. The partnership has been launched and announced primarily as executive action without prior involvement of the legislature in the three countries. Indeed, there is ‘opposition’ support for the partnership in all three countries. The US Republicans who raised hell over Obama’s Iran deal, have largely ignored the new AUKUS. They are more fixated on abortion and immigration. The two Labour opposition parties in Australia and the UK have generally fallen in line except for some voices of caution. There are of course concerns in Australia that the country may have permanently baked its future with the US. The most prominent critic of AUKUS in Australia seems to be Paul Keating, the 77 year old former Labour Prime Minister.


Backlash to AUKUS has been mostly international, especially among Southeast Asian countries. Aside from France and Europe, and for entirely different reasons, Indonesia and Malaysia have expressed serious concerns over the new partnership. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has made himself unavailable to Prime Minister Morrison, who was forced to cancel his pre-planned trip to Jakarta after the diplomatic snub. ASEAN countries are committed by treaty to a nuclear weapon-free Southeast Asia. They are aware that China, the US, Britain and France have generally ignored their protocols in the South China Sea, and they are concerned about China’s building of military bases on islands with disputed claims. And they fear that the new AUKUS partnership and Australia’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines will only aggravate rather than abate the current trends in the region.

It has also been reported that behind the official voices of protest and concern, there could be some support in ASEAN countries for the new AUKUS initiative insofar as it will “help keep China’s aggression in check,” in the long term. Notably, South Korea and Vietnam have been muted in their reactions to AUKUS. And so is Japan, while Taiwan has welcomed the new partnership. In realpolitik terms, any support in Asia for AUKUS will see it as restoring the balance of power in the South China Sea that has been “tilting too much in Beijing’s favour in the past decade.”

On Friday, September 23, the Prime Ministers of Japan and India had their first post-AUKUS meeting with President Biden and Prime Minister Morrison in Washington. That was also the first in-person meeting of the Quad group leaders. For their part, Japan and India would like to keep the possibilities of the Quad group active and alive, and it would be in the interest of both the US and Australia to keep India and Japan on side. Indian reaction(s) to AUKUS are a study in calculated equanimity.

Friday’s editorial in The Hindu captures this ambivalence in measured tone. Ostensibly, India is neither for nor against AUKUS. A position, apparently, of strategic non-alignment. Specifically, India “does not see AUKUS as nuclear proliferation.” As well, for India, while AUKUS is a “security alliance,” security is not the Quad’s main focus. Quad’s possibilities are wide ranging and include, keeping “Indo-Pacific region free, open and inclusive,” and encouraging “maritime exercises, security and efforts in countering COVID-19, climate change, cooperating on critical technologies, and building resilient supply chains.” The editorial concludes: “With the sudden announcement of AUKUS, a worry for New Delhi is that the U.S. is now promoting a security partnership with its “Anglo-Saxon” treaty allies that it is excluded from, possibly upsetting the balance of power in the region, and setting off new tensions to India’s east, adding to the substantial turbulence in India’s west caused by the developments in Afghanistan.”

The ultimate proof of the AUKUS pudding will depend on how China chooses to eat it. It has already called AUKUS, and not unjustifiably, as a return to “cold war mentality.” Except, Xi’s China is not the old communist power of Mao, and any new cold war will not be predicated on ideological battle between capitalism and socialism. For now, the key takeaways from the botched announcement of an admittedly consequential partnership are twofold.

First, it has upended the so-called Western alliance, isolated Europe and NATO, and created a new Anglo-Saxon club of three – excluding the two smaller eyes (Canada and New Zealand) of the original Five Eyes. Second, and more important, it has created a huge uncertainty over the immediate and long-term consequences for the relationship between China and the West, that will have equally uncertain implications for the rest of the world, in general, and Asia in particular.

Among South Asian countries size will matter. India is in a league of its own, while Pakistan and Bangladesh will have their own calculations. Sri Lanka can be smart and stay clear of the submarine waves – the way New Zealand is doing. Already, New Zealand has declared its waters out of bounds for AUKUS submarines. Alternatively, Sri Lanka can go stupid, take sides and pay the price. The worst of all courses would be to try to play both sides with dishonesty and native cunning.    

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Latest comments

  • 6

    “Alternatively, Sri Lanka can go stupid, take sides and pay the price. The worst of all courses would be to try to play both sides with dishonesty and native cunning. “
    Now we are well skilled in the art and craft of the latter mode since 2006, we could attempt that mode and try to break clear of the debt trap the country is in for the past 10 years or so.
    It depends whether the leadership has the gumption to endure the consequences if it goes wrong!
    Well it is easily done now, with a single individual decision by a Ranaviruwo, like a ‘Battle Front’ decision by Sir.
    Empowered by 6.9 million and 225 legislators to boot. If it fails, those are who carry the Can!

    • 6

      AUKUS is all about US and Racism again – a white boys club (the US, UK and Aussi), securing the Submarine or Undersea Data Cable (UDC) routes that keep the global economy and financial system going in the so called Indo-Pacific also important for Data and CYBER WAR Data tapping etc.
      In the final analysis, the West, a.k.a White Boys Club had to set up AUKUS because the 2 Asian powers in QUAD – India and Japan- may not go as far in isolating and attacking China, as the US would like them to!
      AUKUS the white boys club signals the fact that Asian countries like India and Japan are not quite trusted by the White Boys. France was a sort of sacrifice! Asian countries, and brown and yellow folks who are neighbors after all prefer to work with neighbours and secure the Peace. Actually, they have little choice, India and Japan would much rather have peace than war with China.
      America is spoiling for a war in Asia and to also to create a Buddhist-Muslim “Clash of Civilizations” using ISIS as a decoy, to divide and destroy the rise of Asia!

      • 3

        Rajan, Please read; David Vines’ book “The United States of War”.
        Doddering old Joe Biden has lost the plot! Does he and Kamala H think that Asians are stupid and cannot see through the US war games and war mongering in Asia to “make Euro-America Great Again” ? They use the US-Saudi-Israeil made ISIS project and narrative to Divide and re-colonize the Global South with a Covid-19 mask
        Also, US is Weaponizing the South Asian Diaspora in Euro-America against the interest of the people of South Asia to destroy the mother countries. Kamala Harris, whose mother is Tamil is a good example of how the US will weaponize Tamil diaspora to suit US interests and destroy and colonise India and Sri Lanka. Also, the Rajapaksa US citizen brothers are working for US interest at this time an destoying Sri Lanka’s Energy Security by selling off the Kerawalapitiya power plant. This must be stopped as the US wants a lily pat navel base on the East and West Coasts of Lanka for their war machine and surveillance of the Indian Ocean.
        The sick and ailing US, with its 800 military bases all over the world is the biggest Rogue state on the planet – addicted to War with a Human Rights Mask!

      • 7

        Western Societies are the most open and welcoming you’ll find anywhere in the World. Western Civilization represents the pinnacle of human achievement. And we have chosen to share all the wonderful benefits – even with you!
        For any Sri Lankan to accuse others of Racism is just laughable. From my time spent on your island my observation is that Sri Lankans are some of the most Racist people on the Planet. Even your leaders are openly Racist.
        You have no right to lecture anyone else about Racism imho.

    • 3

      “Play both sides with dishonesty and native cunning” , Rajapaksas have mastered the art and craft so much so that they do it for living. See the countries which voted in Geneva , in support of Lanka.

  • 1

    The real name of AUKUS should be Anglo Saxon Special Alliance.

    India and Japan are part of the QUAD but they are not Anglo Saxon so they don’t get submarines.
    Canada and New Zealand parliaments have so many non Anglo Saxon people so they are not Anglo Saxon Only which means they too don’t get them.

  • 7

    Rajan Philips

    “Alternatively, Sri Lanka can go stupid, take sides and pay the price.”

    I am sorry the appropriate sentence should be
    “Alternatively, Sri Lanka can remain stupid, take sides and pay the price” and let every Tom, Dick and Harry to grope the people of this island.

  • 8

    Rajan, There is much more to this, than what it appears firsthand. 1) Yes U.S has intervened in countries with no good reason but China brought this upon it self 2) China has been acting worse than U.S in the region bullying, threatening it’s neighbors, violating the international borders and making illegal claims to maritime access and even threatening with blockade of sea access. . Also now we have yet unsolved mystery of Covid. 3) Last week China threatened Taiwan for getting accepted into elite international trade pact just because they are unable to do so. 4) Quad is originally a brainchild of previous Indian P.M Manmohan Singh intended to address global warming and related environment issues 5) It was primarily India’s decision not to join because of their nonalignment policy. 6) I suspect India and Japan kept away so that they do not directly confront their bullying neighbor. 7) China has always used it’s one sided trade pacts in pressurizing partners to accept it’s hegemony. (Australia,Canada) 8) Until recently E.U had decided to cooperate with China as a policy and not join others in confronting China. 9) Not sure about Indonesia but most neighbors will be happy with this development.

    • 8

      10) To intimidate Taiwan , for entering trade pacts China sent war planes and subs violating boarders. 11) with the new trilateral agreement such threats by China from now on will be immediately confronted. 12 ) Instead of a lost cause like Afghan it’s better to put money on real threat, which is China.

  • 1

    Thanks for letting us know about all these developmental issues. Yeah….White fellows linking hands with other White fellows. In the end, they will be good. Better follow them. They have good experience, even if they stole all our sciences, psychology, medicine, literature, religious concepts, philosophical concepts, mathematics, food groups, organic farming techniques, dance techniques, hygiene techniques, assimilated it all, and took it to higher and more practicable levels.

  • 3

    We should know who blinked in this hostage taking diplomacy.

    • 0

      Not Blinken–
      his boss.

  • 1

    Wish to thank the writer for the well researched and well written paper .

    Looks like SL will have to allow AUCus
    To use Trinco and China to use Hambanthota?

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