Are the US and China Stumbling Toward an 'Islands War'?
In a diplomatic coup, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a deal last week with the U.K. and U.S. to have those Anglo-American allies help build a nuclear-powered submarine fleet for Australia.
A $66 billion French deal to provide Canberra with diesel electric-powered submarines, among the largest defense contracts Paris had ever negotiated, was blown off.
"A stab in the back!" said Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who had been kept in the dark on the secret talks. "There has been duplicity, contempt and lies." Le Drian compared President Joe Biden to former President Donald Trump.
President Emmanuel Macron recalled his ambassadors to both the U.S. and Australia. In two centuries of U.S.-French diplomatic relations, no such recall had ever occurred.
What does this Australia First submarine deal mean?
Canberra, which has sought to steer a middle course between its great customer China and its great ally America, is coming down on the side of the Americans in the rising great-power quarrel.
This "AUXUS" partnership, says Beijing, will "severely damage" peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, and Beijing is demanding to know whether Australia regards China as a "partner or a threat."
This new clash comes as China is using its military to speak for its claims to islands and islets hundreds of miles off its coast.
Several Chinese claims collide directly with the territorial claims of neighbors who are longtime U.S. treaty allies for whose territory we are committed to fight.
China claims, for example, the Paracel and Spratly Islands and almost all of the rocks and reefs in the South China Sea, many of which are within territorial waters claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan.