China has accused Australia, the US, and the UK (AUKUS) of forming an “Asia-Pacific NATO” after the alliance announced that they would be jointly developing hypersonic weapons to keep up with China and Russia amid a hypersonic weapons race.

“Its (AUKUS’) ultimate goal is to build a NATO replica in the Asia-Pacific to serve the US hegemony and self-interests through and through. Asia-Pacific countries will resolutely say no to it for sure,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian’s Regular Press Conference on April 6, 2022 (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China). Source: https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/2511_665403/202204/t20220406_10665019.html
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian’s Regular Press Conference on April 6, 2022 (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China)

Despite this claim, the Philippines and India have already expressed welcoming rhetoric for AUKUS, with Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. saying it was an important counterbalance in Southeast Asia.

“The enhancement of a near abroad ally’s ability to project power should restore and keep the balance, rather than destabilize it,” the secretary said. “Proximity breeds brevity in response time, thereby enhancing an ASEAN near friend and ally’s military capacity to respond to a threat to the region or challenge the status quo,” he added without explicitly stating a threat.

However, it has been known that the Philippines has been at odds with China due to its aggression in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. Its President, Rodrigo Duterte, has since been seen to be shifting back to the US alliance after almost six years of perceived loyalty to China and President Xi Jinping.

This statement from Manila clearly differed from Indonesia’s thoughts on AUKUS, stating that it was deeply concerned about the continuing arms race in the Asia-Pacific after the alliance announced it would be helping Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on September 9, 2021 (U.S. Department of State from United States, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Secretary_Blinken_Meets_with_Philippine_Foreign_Secretary_Teodoro_Locsin,_Jr._(51441170374).jpg
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. at the US Department of State in Washington, DC, on September 9, 2021 (US Department of State from the United States, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Chinese spokesperson accused the trio of exploiting the Russo-Ukrainian war, increasing nuclear proliferation in Asia, and undermining peace and stability in the region. He also claimed that AUKUS was an “Anglo-Saxon clique” based on the old thinking from the Cold War and was “provoking military confrontation.”

Earlier this week, China’s envoy to the UN, Zhang Jun, had threatened the world by saying that a pact such as AUKUS could fuel a crisis like Ukraine in other parts of the world.

“Anyone who does not want to see the Ukrainian crisis should refrain from doing things which may lead the other parts of the world into a crisis like this,” he said. “As the Chinese saying goes: if you do not like it, do not impose it against the others.”

These statements come after China, and the Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare stated that they were ready to sign a security agreement with Beijing, which also raised concerns for Australia and New Zealand as a leaked draft of the agreement reportedly stated that China would be allowed to construct and operate military bases in the Solomons.

What Prompted The Chinese to Rage Out Against AUKUS?

Their concerns with AUKUS aren’t new, as it has been a security threat for China since the inception of the alliance. However, with increasing concerns about Russia and China’s speed of developing hypersonic weapons, the AUKUS alliance also decided that it was time to coordinate with each other to bolster their capacity.

Thus, the AUKUS alliance, through a joint statement with Britain’s Johnson, US’ Biden, and Australia’s Morrison, announced on April 5 that they were going to cooperate on creating hypersonic weapons and improving electronic warfare capabilities. They also said that they were very pleased with the progress of nuclear-powered submarines for Australia.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson G7 Leaders Summit Day Two. The Prime Minister Boris Johnson The President of the United States Joe Biden and the Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison during a meeting at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall (UKinUSA from Washington, D.C., USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Prime_Minister_Boris_Johnson_G7_Leaders_Summit_Day_Two_(51785562781).jpg
Prime Minister Boris Johnson G7 Leaders Summit Day Two. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, President Biden, and the Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison during a meeting at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall (UKinUSA from Washington, DC, USACC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

This was prompted by the United States’ recent hypersonic missile test of the Lockheed Martin, and Aerojet Rocketdyne made Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) in mid-March which was kept secret till recently as there were concerns of further angering Russia by conducting a test. A series of tests involving the US Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile was also canceled due to the same reasons.

Furthermore, the issue of hypersonic missiles came about last month when Russia had fielded its very own hypersonic missile, the Kinzhal, in destroying a fuel depot in Mykolaiv, Ukraine. The Kremlin allegedly fielded this weapon to show off its military capability to the world. It was also determined that they were running out of missiles to fire at Ukraine and had to use the Kinzhal. In 2021, China had also tested its own hypersonic missiles, which allegedly circled the Earth before hitting the target but missed by 24 miles.

SOFREP also reported on SecDef. Austin and Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-Florida) heated exchange during the House Armed Services Committee hearing regarding the defense budget where Gaetz stated that Austin and the Pentagon got several intel wrong with regard to the Russian invasion and the status of the Taliban in Afghanistan before the US pullout. Their argument also touched on China’s hypersonic weapons program, where Gaetz said that the United States was severely behind China.

“I’ve also seen that we were behind in hypersonics. We failed to deter Russia,” Gaetz said.

“What do you mean we’re behind hypersonics? How do you make that assessment?” Austin replied.

“I don’t know. I make that assessment because China is fielding hypersonic weapons systems, and we are still developing them. I make that assessment because Russia actually used one,” he explained.

“By the way, your own people brief us that we are behind and that China is winning. Are you aware of the briefings we get on hypersonics?” Gaetz added.

With all that being said, China’s concern also does not only involve the development of nuclear-powered submarines and hypersonic weapons. It also involves many other technologies that AUKUS will be collaborating on.

According to the White House’s fact sheet regarding the partnership, they will also be developing more capabilities in 4 additional areas: undersea capabilities, quantum technologies, artificial intelligence and autonomy, and advanced cyber.

For the undersea capabilities, the alliance will be creating the AUKUS Undersea Robotics Autonomous Systems (AURAS) project to build autonomous underwater vehicles. Trials of these vehicles are slated for 2023.

Under the quantum technologies pillar, the alliance would be launching the AUKUS Quantum Arrangement (AQuA), which was reportedly focused on “quantum technologies for positioning, navigation, and timing” and would help accelerate investments “to deliver generation-after-next quantum capabilities.”

For artificial intelligence and autonomy, the alliance would focus on defending against AI-enabled threats. Lastly, for the advanced cyber pillar, AUKUS would focus on “strengthening cyber capabilities, including protecting critical communications and operations systems.”