An increasingly aggressive and assertive China contributed to the formation of a new trilateral security partnership between the United States, Britain and Australia, a defense expert told CNBC.
The new partnership, announced Wednesday, seeks to strengthen stability in the Indo-Pacific. The United States and Britain will help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines, enabling the Australian Navy to help counter Chinese nuclear-powered vessels in the region.
The three countries downplayed the notion that the partnership is aimed specifically at China.
“I can assure you that none of this would have happened if it were not for the more aggressive and assertive policies pursued by Xi Jinping over the last half decade or more,” said Peter Jennings, CEO of think tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute, to. CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” Thursday.
Under Xi, China has militarized the South China Sea, tightened control over Hong Kong, threatened Taiwan and Japan, and economically punished Australia, Jennings added.
“China is the strategic problem in the region,” he said.
“I’m sure Beijing does not like this development, but what do they expect? It will obviously be the case that the consequent countries in the region will seek to strengthen themselves to deal with a more aggressive China, and that is honestly it happened with this message. “
In response to the new security pact, China Embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu told Reuters that countries “should not build exclusion blocs that target or harm the interests of third parties. In particular, they should shake off their Cold War mentality and ideological prejudices.”
Derek Grossman, senior defense analyst at RAND Corporation, said China could use unilateral economic sanctions in response to the new security group.
“China has used it in the past … as a lever to punish Australia when it sees fit. But there are also many other things China can do. They can increase their military self-assertion in the South China Sea, in the East China Sea towards Taiwan. , “Grossman told CNBC” Capital Connection “on Thursday.
‘Deterrent effect’ in the Indo-Pacific
Experts in geopolitics have said that Taiwan is one of the most dangerous hotspots in the strategic competition between the United States and China.
Jennings said it was important to build “a strong deterrent effect” in the Indo-Pacific region, so China would conclude that “it’s just not worth pursuing a military game against Taiwan.”
Taiwan and mainland China are separated by the Taiwan Strait, which is only about 160 kilometers wide at its narrowest point. The ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing has never controlled Taiwan, but it claims that the island is an escape province that will one day be reunited with the mainland – if necessary by force.
China has more aggressively asserted its claims on Taiwan, and there have been many breaches of Taiwan’s air defense zone with Chinese warplanes this year.
“Honestly, if we have the United States, Britain, Australia working together in a more powerful type of alliance … starting to paint a picture that says to China, ‘You will not get away with an attack on Taiwan that way. , that you got rid of militarizing the South China Sea, ”Jennings said.
The South China Sea is a resource-rich waterway and an important commercial shipping route, with trillions of dollars of world trade passing by every year.
Beijing claims almost the entire sea and has constructed military outposts on artificial islands that it built in these waters. Several Asian countries, including Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia, are also claiming parts of the South China Sea as their territories.
In 2016, a court at the Permanent Court of Arbitration rejected China’s claim as legally unfounded – a ruling that was ignored by Beijing.
– CNBC’s Abigail Ng contributed to this report.