The agreement between the US, UK and Australia strengthens old ties as a new era unfolds in the Indo-Pacific region

No one – least of all Beijing – believes the denials. The new defence pact between the US, UK and Australia is unmistakably aimed at containing China. The question is how substantive it will prove to be. The initial project – Canberra’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines, with Washington and London’s help – is prompted in part by growing Australian frustration over its troubled contract for French-made vessels. But it opens the way for greater military cooperation and is to be underpinned by wide-ranging collaboration on areas such as cyber-security, artificial intelligence and quantum computing, which China is pursuing intensively.

Joe Biden appears to be realising Barack Obama’s pledge of a pivot to Asia, with US capacity freed by withdrawal from Afghanistan, and China’s behaviour ringing alarm bells internationally. The Aukus pact binds the UK and Australia more closely to the US position, and should augment US military power in the region (though France, Europe’s most significant Indo-Pacific player, is openly furious). Though Boris Johnson has highlighted the promise of UK jobs, a White House official described the deal as a “downpayment on global Britain”.

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