The USA, Australia and Great Britain have allied themselves with one another in the Indo-Pacific with a new security pact. The reason for this is China’s striving for power – its fleet is growing steadily.
The announcement of the historic alliance between the USA, Australia and Great Britain for security in the Indo-Pacific (Aukus) can be understood as a clear response to China’s drive for power in the region. Beijing has expanded its maritime power in the Indo-Pacific at breathtaking speed. The West – above all the US government – is now trying with great effort to rebalance the military balance of power.
In terms of the number of ships and submarines, China has the largest navy in the world, according to the US Department of Defense. According to the US Naval Intelligence Service, China’s fleet was around 360 ships at the end of 2020 – compared to 297 ships in the United States. And Beijing is tirelessly expanding its navy: by 2025, the combat strength is to increase to 400 ships, by 2030 to 425 ships.
132 ships in four years
According to defense experts from Janes, a military science publisher, China built a total of 132 ships between 2015 and 2019. Beijing is currently building its third aircraft carrier and other destroyers. The USA built only 68 ships in the same period, India 48, Japan 29 and Australia 9. France has 17 new ships, while Great Britain built 4 ships, including two aircraft carriers. Germany put two submarines and a frigate into service.
The Chinese destroyer Xi: In just a few years, Beijing has massively strengthened its navy. (Source: imago images)
China managed to put the equivalent of the French naval fleet into service within four years, as Admiral Pierre Vandier, chief of staff of the French navy, notes. The “historic Chinese naval effort” would represent 55 percent of the Chinese defense budget. Defense expert Helena Legarda from the Berlin China Institute Merics suspects that through the Aukus alliance, China will now begin to place even more emphasis on modernizing its own military.
Submarine power China
Beijing also has six nuclear-powered missile submarines (SSBN) armed with nuclear missiles, as well as around 40 attack submarines, 6 of which are also nuclear-powered, such as the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) determined. Washington, for its part, has 21 attack submarines and 8 SSBNs in the Pacific, which, according to the US Navy, mainly operate from Pearl Harbor. Five of the eleven US aircraft carriers are also on the move in the Pacific.
Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Oklahoma City (SSN 723): The United States and Great Britain want to help Australia build nuclear-powered submarines. (Source: Mc3 Naomi Johnson / US Navy Office of Information via AP / dpa)
Australia currently has six conventional Swedish-type submarines that have been in service since the mid-1990s. Given the strong Chinese fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, Canberra canceled a billion-dollar contract with France to build conventional submarines. Instead, with the help of Washington and London, nuclear-powered submarines are now to be built. “This is not a change of heart, but a change of necessity,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, explaining the move that sparked a diplomatic crisis with Paris.
One island after the next
In addition to Australia, other regional players are also increasing their fleets. Vietnam already has six Russian-made submarines, Malaysia two submarines, Indonesia has ordered six submarines from South Korea, and the Philippines are also considering building their own submarines. Japan has 23 submarines, South Korea 18, Singapore 2, and Russia a dozen.
Many of these countries are embroiled in protracted maritime territorial disputes with China in the Indo-Pacific. Especially in the South China Sea, Beijing is aggressively expanding its supremacy, claiming island after island for itself and thus threatening global stability.