San Diego CNN --
On Monday, President Joe Biden will have a 377-foot submarine (the USS Missouri) to flank him as he announces a faster timeline for Australia's nuclear-powered submarines.
The US's increasingly fraught relationship with China will continue to be a major focus of Biden’s presidency. This relationship has been heightened by a series of global events in recent weeks, including the downing of a Chinese spy ball and the revelation that Beijing may be considering arming Russia. All this is happening amid the unprecedented consolidation of Chinese power by Xi Jinping and a growing bipartisan consensus in Washington regarding the dangers China presents.
US officials are openly aware that tensions with China have risen in recent years, and that Beijing's fervent public rhetoric is indicative of their private relations. This is why Biden's multi-pronged China strategy, which includes a bid for normalization of diplomatic relations with China, has included a bid to reduce tensions while the US pursues policies such as Monday's submarine announcement to counter China's military moves and global influence.
According to a senior administration official, there has been no progress in the effort to reopen communication lines, particularly between top military brass of each country following the spy balloon incident.
The official stated that China appeared to be resistant at the moment to actually moving forward with the establishment of those mechanisms and dialogues. "What we need is the right mechanisms between senior government officials, the military, and the various crisis managers from both sides to communicate when something is misinterpreted or accidental."
Biden will face a series of decisions in the coming weeks and month that could further escalate tensions. These include putting new restrictions on American investments in China and restricting the US operations at TikTok, a popular social media platform owned by a Chinese firm. Chinese officials in Beijing must decide soon whether to ignore US warnings and provide lethal weaponry for Russia's war in Ukraine.
Monday's update about the three-way defense partnership among the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom was the latest effort to counter China's efforts at naval dominance and its plans to invade self-governing Taiwan. Australia will receive at least three advanced submarines in the early part of next decade. This is faster than was predicted by the AUKUS partnership 18 months ago. Meanwhile, submarines from the US like the USS Missouri will be rotating through Australian ports.
China quickly criticized the move, claiming it promoted a 'Cold War mentality' and zero-sum games.
China's refusal to wait for the announcement to make its protests is an indication of how closely Beijing watches Biden's actions in the Pacific. This is where the US military expands its presence and helps other countries modernize their fleets.
It's yet another example of Biden's perception of China as the greatest threat to global stability and peace in the long-term, even though Russia's war with Ukraine is consuming current US diplomatic attention and military attention.
First shipment will consist of American Virginia-class attack submarines. These submarines can be used to carry a variety of weapons including cruise missiles and torpedoes. They can carry special operations forces, as well as carry out intelligence- and reconnaissance missions.
This will be followed by British-designed submarines containing American technology in the 2040s. These will transform Australia's underwater capabilities for the next 25 years.
The US submarines will be deployed to Australia in rotation to train Australian crews. This will allow them to increase their defense capabilities in the region.
Despite protestations from China, the submarines won't be equipped with nuclear weapons. Despite this, US, Australian, and British officials insist that the plans comply with international non-proliferation rules.
The announcement sends the clear message that the US and its allies see China's growing naval ambitions as a major threat to their security and are preparing for a long-term battle. Already in 2011, the US had announced that it would increase its military presence to the Philippines, and Japan welcomed its efforts to strengthen its military.
A senior administration official stated that the AUKUS partnership was "deeply consequential". "The Chinese recognize that it is important and will want to cooperate accordingly.
Officials from the United States said that Britain's participation to the submarine project was a sign of Europe’s growing concern about tensions within the Pacific. These concerns have been raised within NATO, despite the fact that the alliance is still engulfed by the conflict in Ukraine. Biden raised the question of China during conversations with European leaders, including Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, on Friday. This was in the hope of developing a coordinated approach.
It is now unclear whether China will choose diplomatically to improve relations with the US, despite the increased tensions.
Xi has not made any progress, despite repeated phone calls and a November face to face meeting.
Forty-four months after that meeting, there has been little progress in reopening communication lines between Washington and Beijing. This was once seen as the main takeaway from the three hour session in Bali. In February, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to CNN to say that it had been months since his last conversation with his Chinese counterpart.
Public remarks by Chinese leaders, including Xi, have started to get more aggressive over the last week. This is a sign that the confrontational approach of the previous year is not waning.
Biden and his advisors have mostly downplayed Beijing's new, sharp tone. CNN asked Biden on Thursday what the new rebukes of Xi and Foreign Secretary Qin Gang meant. Biden responded flatly, 'Not much.
Tensions seemed to have reached a new height last week when Xi explicitly criticized the US' policy of 'all-round containment and encirclement against us'. Qin spoke the next day and called the 'competition' Biden had long wanted to make central to the relationship between these two powers a'reckless gamble'.
Qin stated that if the United States continues to accelerate down the wrong track and does not brake, then no guardrails will stop it. Qin also said that there would be conflict and confrontation.
Senior administration officials acknowledged that Xi's rhetoric was'more direct' in recent years, but stated that the White House believes that Xi will'return to the highest level of engagement' after he has completed his latest consolidation.