AUKUS to Push Forward With Expansion Despite Quarrels Between Allies

Earlier reports had indicated that the administration of US President Joe Biden was pushing hard to gain momentum on the AUKUS Pillar 2 stage before the US elections in November. It was also noted that Japan and Canada were in line to join the second – non-nuclear – pillar of the trilateral security partnership.

The US is pushing for Japan to be included in Pillar II of the AUKUS agreement, despite disagreements that have plagued the trilateral pact, the Financial Times reported.

The defense ministers of the United States, Britain and Australia are expected to issue a statement on Monday announcing the start of talks on new members joining the security pact. The talks would be on the non-nuclear Pillar II of the trilateral security agreement, insiders were quoted as saying. Expansion of Pillar I is not on the table, they added.

The statement comes ahead of a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House on April 10. The two sides are expected to announce closer military cooperation as Japan’s prime minister pushes a massive defense buildup rationalized by US-driven claims of alleged threats from neighboring countries. A trilateral meeting between the US, Japan and the Philippines will follow on Thursday.

Pillar II involves the sharing of a range of technologies, including underwater robotics, quantum electronics, cybersecurity and electronic warfare capabilities, hypersonic weapons, and defenses against them.

Announced on September 15, 2021, the AUKUS trilateral partnership between the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia promised to bolster Australia’s fleet with nuclear-powered submarines and increase defense cooperation among countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The deal led to a diplomatic rift between Australia and France after Canberra reneged on a $66 billion contract with Paris to develop 12 advanced conventionally powered attack submarines.

Under the three-phase deal, Australia is expected to buy at least three Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarines, with an option to acquire two more in the early 2030s. Before that, Canberra would host the “rotational force” of US and British submarines from 2027. In December 2023, the US Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which authorized the transfer of the Virginia-class submarines to Australia.

From the beginning, there has been talk of other countries joining the Pillar II of AUKUS, with Japan being dubbed “Jaukus” for its potential membership. US Ambassador to Tokyo Rahm Emanuel wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Friday that Japan was “about to become the first additional Pillar II partner” in AUKUS.

A Politico report in March quoted diplomats as saying that the Biden administration was “pushing really hard to get some things on AUKUS pillar 2 done now, before the US election” in November. The rush was apparently prompted by fears that if ex-President Donald Trump retook the White House, he might decide to either roll back or scrap the AUKUS agreement.

But the upcoming announcement on the possible expansion is a “compromise between the allies,” the outlet noted. Both Australia and the UK have reportedly balked at the idea of inviting Japan to join AUKUS. As it stands, the trilateral security cooperation pact faces complications that need to be ironed out, the report read.

Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles indicated in February that AUKUS was “very much focused on working on new innovative technologies amongst the three countries” before any new members joined.

US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell admitted that the US side was finding it “challenging to trilateralize” some of the development and co-production with the UK and Australia.

Canberra and London have also previously raised concerns about Tokyo’s lack of security systems to protect highly sensitive information. “Japan has taken some of those steps, but not all of them,” Campbell stated.

As for Australia, it sees the nuclear submarine program as a priority before expanding Pillar II, an insider was quoted as saying.

As the Washington architects of this de facto anti-China alliance show an eagerness to expand it, with reports suggesting South Korea or New Zealand as likely candidates, opposition to the pact has grown. From the outset, China has denounced AUKUS as a demonstration of a “Cold War mentality.” AUKUS could turn the Pacific into “an ocean of storms,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin warned last year.

Russia expressed concern about the pact, saying the partnership would have a destabilizing effect on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and undermine international security in general.

Incidentally, with respect to Pillar II, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s (ASPI) June 2023 assessment update suggests that China is ahead of the US and its allies in 19 of the 23 technologies relevant to that stage of AUKUS.

“China has become a serious competitor in the foundational technologies of the 21st century: artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, quantum information science (QIS), semiconductors, biotechnology, and green energy,” as per the statement.

Japan’s renewed airliner ambitions may have regional spillover effect

Illustration: Tang Tengfei/Global Times

Illustration: Tang Tengfei/Global Times

Japan aims to develop a next-generation passenger aircraft by around 2035, with a plan to mobilize a combined 5 trillion yen ($33 billion) in public and private investment over the next 10 years, Kyodo News reported on Wednesday. 

Japan’s aviation ambitions are noteworthy, as they demonstrate that the country is doubling down on high-end manufacturing to reboot its economy despite challenges, which may generate a spillover effect on the Asia-Pacific supply chain.

Earlier this month, Japan’s central bank finally ended its era of negative interest rates following signs that the country’s decades-long deflation or low inflation is coming to an end. 

Another significant recovery has been seen in the stock market, with its main index climbing past its all-time high after a 34-year wait. Some optimists believe that Japan’s economy is awakening from its decades-long torpor, and confidence levels have hit a new high. 

Against this backdrop, some analysts believe high-end manufacturing will become a focus of Japan’s efforts to restart its economic engine. As a restructuring of the Asia-Pacific industrial chain seems to have accelerated, Japan might have realized that it must rely on high-end manufacturing, as well as scientific and technological innovation, to seize new development opportunities in the increasingly intense international competition. 

At this moment, Japan announced plans to develop a next-generation passenger jet. It seems that analysts guessed the trend correctly.

Citing officials of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Kyodo News said the aircraft industry is expected to be a growth driver for Japan. The country’s new aircraft development project is likely to involve multiple companies, leveraging Japan’s technologies and experience in areas such as aircraft bodies, engines and equipment.

In the mid-1990s, Japan had a highly diversified manufacturing economy. However, in the following three decades, some traditional manufacturing industries, such as fax machines, digital cameras, electronic watches and home audio systems, gradually declined. Now, it’s become increasingly clear that Japan is attempting to revive its manufacturing industries, especially in high-end sectors.

The Japanese government has implemented several initiatives to revitalize the semiconductor industry. According to the Japan Times, the country is expected to drastically hike investment in chip gear by $7 billion this year, citing an industry association – an 82 percent increase from last year.

After its “lost decades,” Japanese society experienced a sense of frustration and powerlessness, but now its confidence is recovering. Japan was once a leader in world production, known for its expertise in cutting-edge technologies such as comprehensive hydrogen energy utilization. Therefore, Japan’s current efforts to develop high-end manufacturing are worthy of attention. This will potentially intensify the already fierce competition in the Asia-Pacific region.

However, Japan faces significant challenges – from talent reserves to the integrity of the supply chain – in attempting to rebuild its manufacturing influence, especially in high-end sectors. 

For instance, Japan’s new effort to develop a next-generation airliner by 2035 is bound to encounter obstacles. Its previous attempt to establish itself as a commercial aircraft maker failed in 2023. Now, the country’s renewed push for a homegrown airliner is likely to face similar challenges and difficulties.

Nevertheless, Japan has shown its determination to develop high-end manufacturing. China, as an important participant in the Asia-Pacific supply chain, is also ramping up efforts to develop advanced manufacturing. We should be aware that Japan’s development could make competition in the global market more intense, and be prepared to cope with it.

A key issue is how to prevent competition from moving toward a zero-sum game. To solve this problem, all participants in the Asia-Pacific supply chain, including Japan, need to open up their markets, curb trade protectionism, oppose economic decoupling, and strengthen industrial chain cooperation.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. [email protected]