Positioning the hard-to-track submarines closer to seas near China, Japan and the Korean Peninsula could be a powerful deterrent against the Chinese military, said Drew Thompson, a former Pentagon official responsible for relations with China. .
“The wars in the Middle East have ended,” said Mr Thompson, now a… visiting senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore. “We are in an interwar period and the next one will be a high-end, very intense conflict with a near-peer competitor, probably involving China, and most likely in Northeast Asia.”
After condemning the submarine deal last week, the Chinese government has said little else. But China’s leaders and military planners are sure to consider military and diplomatic countermeasures, including new ways to sanction Australian exports, already hit by bans and punitive tariffs as relations deteriorated in recent years.
Beijing could also accelerate efforts to develop technologies to find and destroy nuclear-powered submarines well before Australia receives them. Most experts said a technology race was more likely than a general arms race. China’s production of new naval ships and combat aircraft is fast. The anti-submarine technology is less advanced.
In the shorter term, Chinese officials may step up efforts to unite regional opposition to the submarine plan and the new security group called AUKUS for Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“If you’re China, this also makes you think, ‘Well, I better get ahead of this,'” said Elbridge Colby, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense in the Trump administration. He said: “If Australia takes this big step, then Japan could take half a step, and Taiwan a half step, and then India and then maybe Vietnam.”