FRance is furious. Theresa May is worried. The announcement of the new Australia-United Kingdom-United States (Aukus) alliance and the abandonment of a previous Franco-Australian submarine agreement has led French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to describe the pact as ” a stab in the back, “while the former British prime minister worries that Britain will be dragged into a war over Taiwan’s future.
Interestingly, Beijing’s reaction has been rather subdued. Yes, he has accused the West of a “cold war mentality”, and Xi Jinping has warned foreigners not to interfere in the region, but his warning that China will “closely monitor the situation” was almost outrageous to “cut off. and paste “. .
Aukus is more significant for what it reveals about the thinking of the three partners than for the actual content of the pact. Some observers call it a “nuclear” deal when it is nothing of the sort; Submarines are not the nuclear-armed Tridents seen in the BBC drama Vigil., but ships powered by nuclear power, which gives them a greater range. For the West, Aukus shows the real fear that the next president of the United States will be Donald Trump or one of his apostles. Boris Johnson has been adamant about Aukus for “decades” – the undeclared implication is that regardless of who the US presidents are. During that period, Aukus tries to link the US with the long-term Asia-Pacific security.
Less obviously, it’s also about linking the US to European security in a world where NATO may be less relevant. This week, France has every reason to be angry about losing its Australian alliance and its submarine contract. But for the next decade, expect to see quite a different arrangement: the UK and France will both be pillars of a European security order (along with a nascent EU force). And the association with Aukus brings the most important stabilizing prize: the presence of the United States firmly allied to a great European power (albeit outside the EU).
China’s rhetoric on the cold war misses an important point: the structures of that time were binary and rigid. But Aukus suggests that the liberal order can be reconstituted through “minilateral” agreements, in which different constellations of powers act together on different issues. The “Quad” of Japan, Australia, India and the United States is the best-known example of this so far, but Aukus may be a sign of more to come. Those deals may infuriate individual members of that order in the short term (British anger at the United States over Afghanistan, French anger at Australia over Aukus), but in reality they show that the liberal order is more robust than surface noise suggests. It is not a cold war, but an ever-changing series of adaptations.
Beijing seems to know, which is why its response has sounded so half-hearted. China will be less concerned about the details of Aukus, as there is already a lot of Western military material in the region. The real challenge for China is, why do so few of its neighbors support its complaints about the new pact? Singapore, a country that has spent decades balancing between the United States and China in the region, expressed hope that Aukus “complement regional architectureWhich made it look more like a fancy Georgian fireplace than a deal on deadly weapons. China’s failure in the past two decades has not been its inability to pull the United States out of the region, but its continued inability to persuade local countries that a US exit would be a good idea.
The Achilles heel of Aukus may not be in security, but in a different area: commerce. China is the largest partner of all its neighbors and is outside of a single major trade bloc in the region, the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership. A report from the British Foreign Policy Group this week, of which I am a co-author, predicted that a move to join the CPTPP would be part of China’s strategy to improve the regional narrative around it. The day after Aukus was announced, Beijing declared its formal offer to join the association.
This is a smart move but also risky. The CPTPP demands a series of standards for trade and, fundamentally, labor, which are certainly weaker than the EU norms, but still more demanding than those of China itself. Beijing carries weight and can negotiate its own terms more freely than smaller members. But your entry may well include discussions with what seems likely to be the association’s newest member in 2022: the UK, which will be, after Japan, the second-largest economy in this group. If the UK can find a way to contribute to a process that brings China to higher levels of trade and labor rights, while keeping Aukus alive, it would be a genuine contribution to the idea of ’global Britain’ .
It was Donald Trump who pulled the United States out of the TPP, the pact’s predecessor. China’s attempted entry could tempt Americans to re-enter; Which would mean that the biggest irony of Aukus could be that the world’s two largest economies are more divided on security and at the same time more intertwined through trade.
Rana Mitter is Professor of Modern Chinese History and Politics at the University of Oxford and co-author (with Sophia Gaston) of the report. Restoring the engagement between the UK and China: Update 2021
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism