Chinese aggression is naturally scary. But many people don’t realize how the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) aggressive rhetoric and behavior can hurt China and help the United states.
The best example of the Chinese version of this trend is Australia. The latest news is that Chinese media Global Times called Australia “cannon fodder” for the United States. This behavior is just the latest in a long line of abuses and aggression that has pushed Australia into the arms of the United States.
This has been building since 2018. A combination of Chinese interference in Australian elections, the latter’s support for democracy activists in Hong Kong, and Australia calling for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19 (and the implied allegation of the Wuhan lab leak theory) led to Chinese retaliation. CCP spokesmen became more belligerent and Beijing instituted a series of tariffs against Australian products, including coal, beef, barely, wine, cotton, and lobster. Australia sold elsewhere, while Chinese cities suffered fuel shortages. So it seems like Australia was no worse for the wear.
But this started a tit for tat between the two powers. Australia increased its defense budget, and the CCP turned up the volume on supposedly racist Australian attacks or sent warships near Australia. This all led to the announcement that Australia will purchase and use nuclear submarines in a new alliance with the United States and the United Kingdom, but this was years in the making. This is the first time the United States has shared its nuclear submarine technology in 50 years and some analysts say it is the most important military partnership in the region since World War II.
To understand this significance, we must consider the difference between the French-built diesel-powered submarines that Australia had planned to buy and their new nuclear-powered ones. Diesel engines require air to operate and that means that every so often they must snorkel, or release air from the engine. To avoid revealing their positions, they must slow down during a snorkel. They also have limited batteries and fuel, which means they stay closer to the shore. On the plus side, they are usually smaller, which means they are better at littoral defense. And they are cheaper to produce, which allows more of them to be built for the same budget.
Nuclear reactors, in contrast, can operate at high speeds over long distances for more time. Given the mission of nuclear attack submarines to exercise sea control, support surface strike groups, shadow ballistic-missile submarines, and deny enemy ships access to areas of interest, this means they are very much designed to project force away from the shores. Plus, Australia must follow up this purchase with significant investment in qualified personnel, experience, infrastructure, and training facilities to operate these submarines. In short, like buying advanced American fighters, this represents a long-term logistical relationship between the United States and Australia.
A security alliance requires us to ask what they are securing. The Chinese reliance on swarms of missiles and anti-access/area denial capacity (commonly labelled with the abbreviation A2/AD) means that these submarines, if ever used in combat, will likely contribute to degrading that Chinese bubble to allow alliance surface vessels to operate closer to contested areas like Taiwan or the South China Sea. It is unknown exactly what class and capabilities the Australians will field, but even if they are more like the aging Ohio class submarines than the new Virginia class, they will have amazing capabilities. Ohio class submarines, for example, can fire all its missiles in as little as 6 minutes, and its stealth allows it to move closer and fire more safely than other ships. Recent operations have proven the worth of the Tomahawks on Ohio subs. Australia is also buying Tomahawk cruise missiles. During the campaign in Libya, almost half of the targets struck and half of the missiles fired overall were fired by a single Ohio class submarine. In the case of conflict with China, Australian submarines and interoperability with U.S. forces will be pivotal since they can put more in theater more quickly than the United States.
Australia has gone from a somewhat neutral power and move firmly into the U.S. orbit. This was the result of Chinese aggression and not some Henry Kissinger like diplomatic coup from the United States. This is a long-term commitment so that the United States and Australia will suggest it is not a temporary reaction to Chinese provocation, but a sense that the tide has turned and China created an alliance against them. While the West tends to worry about this aggression, it has negative consequences for China in that it tries to take the pre-World War I German approach, and apparently tries to convince what a good friend it could be by bullying its neighbors. This shows that we shouldn’t downplay Chinese aggression, but we shouldn’t fear monger about it as well because the CCP’s aggression is just as likely to backfire and create a string of countries allied against it.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.