How Many in AUKUS: Three, Four, Maybe More?

Speaking at the US Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference in Washington this week, Australia’s Minister for Defence Industry, the Hon Pat Conroy MP, highlighted that AUKUS partners are already working together on the Alliance’s second phase – the development of a range of advanced capabilities, technology sharing and interoperability. Furthermore, cooperation on Pillar II of AUKUS is set to expand beyond the original three member nations (the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom), and include other close allies as consultations begin this year with prospective partners. A trilateral statement on Tuesday announced that Japan is being considered for such cooperation.

Formed in 2021, AUKUS operates openly as part of a collective effort to push back against the growing influence of the People’s Republic of China. It comes as no surprise then that China has been opposed to AUKUS.  Unsurprisingly,  China has been opposed to AUKUS, and . China’s foreign ministry responded with ‘grave concern’ to Japan’s potential inclusion in Pillar II of the Alliance. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Beijing “opposes the formation of exclusive ‘small circles’ and the creation of bloc confrontation” of which can disrupt regional peace. She continued, “Japan needs to earnestly draw lessons from history and stay prudent on military and security issues”. 

Japan, which has a complex and tense relationship with China, is often referred to as the most important US ally in Asia. Japan is right on China’s doorstep and has territory (the island of Yonaguni) merely 111km from Taiwan. It is said that on occasion, even the artillery fire of Taiwan’s military training can be heard from the island. Japan’s geographic position and relationship with the US means the US is able to project military power across the region. 

Image Credit: Japan’s Westernmost Island Yonaguni and Taiwan Dream of Renewed Bonds – The Yomiuri Shimbun (The Japan News)

Despite the announcement there are obstacles in the way of collaboration. The US still struggles to fully integrate with Australia and Britain when it comes to sharing technological secrets. If the US struggles with two of its most trusted partners, it will be difficult to include partners like Japan. According to U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, Japan has taken some steps to improve their ability to protect intellectual property and secrets, but not all the steps required.

Prime Minister Albanese has also stated that there is no proposal for Japan to officially join AUKUS; but to collaborate on a “project-by-project basis”.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stated that his country is also exploring the possibility of joining Pillar II.

13 April 2024 | Authored by Connor Andreatidis, Consultant, Precision Public Affairs

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