US official talks AUKUS expansion ahead of summit with Japan

washington — U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell has suggested that the U.S.-U.K.-Australia trilateral security partnership known as AUKUS may soon be expanded to include other Indo-Pacific nations.

AUKUS was established in 2021 in the face of China’s increasingly assertive presence in the Indo-Pacific. Talks about other countries joining the group or participating in what is called Pillar 2 have been circulating for more than a year.

“It was always believed when AUKUS was launched that, at some point, we would welcome new countries to participate, particularly in Pillar 2,” Campbell said while speaking Wednesday at an event hosted by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).

The first pillar of AUKUS was to provide Australia with a conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarine fleet, and the second pillar is to collaborate on advanced capabilities such as artificial intelligence, quantum technology, advanced network capabilities, hypersonic capabilities, electronic warfare and underwater capabilities.

Campbell added that other countries have expressed interest in participating in AUKUS when the time was right.

“I think you’ll hear that we have something to say about that next week,” he said.

Trilateral summit next

Next week, U.S. President Joe Biden will host a trilateral summit with Japan and the Philippines. Biden will also have a bilateral summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Campbell said the summit with Japan is expected to “historically” upgrade security cooperation relations, including the joint development of defense supplies.

According to Nikkei Asia, Campbell revealed on March 21 that the U.S.-Japan talks are expected to discuss technical cooperation between Japan and AUKUS.

According to the report, Campbell said Japan had made it “very clear” that it had no interest in participating in the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine project. But, he said, “there are clearly areas that Japan could bring substantial capacity to bear in security and technological pursuits that advance common goals in the Indo-Pacific.”

Campbell told Nikkei Asia that those areas include advanced robotics, cyber initiatives and some work in anti-submarine warfare.

At Wednesday’s event, Campbell noted that several countries in the Indo-Pacific region are undertaking critical research and development in areas Pillar 2 focuses on, including hypersonic capabilities, long-range strikes, undersea capabilities and cyber.


As China’s provocative actions have escalated in recent years, AUKUS has begun to set its sights on more countries.

During a “2+2” meeting between Japan and Australia in December 2022, Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said that AUKUS could involve Japan.

In August 2023, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the British House of Commons stated that AUKUS should invite Japan and South Korea to join.

Last November, former Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso suggested during a visit to Australia that Japan join the group, which could be named JAUKUS. He said that would help send a unified signal on the Taiwan issue.

Australia and New Zealand also raised the possibility of New Zealand joining the second pillar of AUKUS after a ministerial meeting between the two countries in February.

Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst in defense strategy and capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, or ASPI, said the second pillar of AUKUS could draw on the strengths of Japan, New Zealand, Canada and even South Korea, but not necessarily as full members.

“Rather than bringing in these states as full AUKUS members, it’s better to bring them in on a project-by-project basis within pillar two areas of priority — for example, robotics and A.I., autonomous systems, advanced undersea warfare, electronic warfare, quantum technologies, and hypersonics,” Davis told VOA via email.

“It also opens up opportunities to add in some new priority areas — for example, space-related areas, where these states can make a great contribution.”

Bronte Munro, an analyst in the ASPI office in Washington, told VOA that Japan is an increasingly suitable candidate for joining AUKUS, noting major changes in its defense policy in response to the perceived Chinese threat. These include amendments to laws prohibiting the export of lethal weapons.

Munro said Japan’s manufacturing of advance semiconductors is critical for technology leadership, and the inclusion of Japan can help “secure semiconductor supply chains more explicitly for AUKUS partners.”

However, there are doubts in some circles about the wisdom of expanding AUKUS in view of the risks involved in sharing and transferring advanced technologies.

Andrew Hastie, the shadow defense minister of the Australian opposition party, told the U.S. media outlet Breaking Defense on March 28 that AUKUS’ focus should remain with the three countries already involved to ensure a seamless “transfer of the very sensitive secrets and intellectual property that’s involved with the heart of Pillar 1 and Pillar 2.”

When asked at the CNAS event whether Japan has established a security architecture to integrate into the second pillar of AUKUS, Campbell pointed out that the U.S. has been involved in “a series of engagements with Japan both on the intelligence side and in security spheres to encourage Japan to take on increasingly more strenuous activities that protect their intellectual property, that hold government officials accountable for the secrets they are trusted with.”

“It’s fair to say that Japan has taken some of those steps, but not all of them,” he said. “And we believe that ultimately, it is in our interest to share as much information and other technologies … with close partners like Japan to allow for a deeper, more fundamental alliance,” said Campbell.

He announced that “One of the things that I think you’ll see next week are steps, for the first time, that will allow the United States and Japan to work more collaboratively on joint development and potentially co-production of vital military and defense equipment.

“The U.S.-Japan Alliance is the cornerstone of our engagement in the Indo-Pacific.”

Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

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