Ganging up on China

Ganging up on China

AUKUS, an agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom to provide submarines to Australia, has enraged France when transatlantic cooperation to cope with China’s growth is deemed critical by the old-world-order. It has become clear that today, the US’s overarching goal is to limit China’s economic, trade, and technological power, so that it can maintain its global hegemony. Kurt Campbell, the US National Security Council’s Coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs, admits that the main challenge facing the US is combining “European and regional instruments” to address the “Chinese challenge.”

The schism in the transatlantic relationship is significant, as shown by France’s decision to withdraw its ambassador to Washington and the French foreign minister’s description of the agreement as a “stab in the back.” Officials in France are enraged that they were essentially kept in the dark about the AUKUS agreement, which ruined their chance to supply submarines to Australia. Paris is unhappy with the cancellation of its submarine contract with Canberra, valued at more than $60 billion; it will cost France jobs and money. They argue, not without reason, that such secrecy among close friends is improper and constitutes a breach of trust.

The incident has tapped into Gaullist feelings in France. This political tradition looks to a robust French state to counter subordination to other countries. (In 1966, President Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from the military framework of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – NATO – to reclaim “the full exercise of her sovereignty.”)

As President Emmanuel Macron prepares to run for re-election next year, this Gaullist heritage may lead him to respond angrily to the AUKUS agreement. And the dispute follows NATO’s hasty and bungled departure from Afghanistan, which caused concern among several alliance members about the inadequate dialogue between Washington and its allies.

While the AUKUS agreement is unlikely to pose operational difficulties for NATO, its fallout is already fuelling more vocal calls for the European Union to move toward what France refers to as “strategic autonomy” – a Europe that is a more capable geopolitical actor, and thus less dependent on the United States for security.

The allure of strategic autonomy became stronger under Donald Trump’s presidency. His America First foreign strategy contributed to widespread distrust of Washington’s reliability and commitment to European security among many Europeans. The inauguration of President Joe Biden resulted in the fast healing of the transatlantic connection. Still, the rocky departure from Afghanistan and the repercussions of the AUKUS agreement are putting the argument over the EU’s military ambitions back into focus.

For the time being, the argument is more theoretical than practical. Before Europe can attain strategic autonomy, it must strengthen its military capabilities and implement a more robust shared security strategy. Furthermore, most European NATO members favour a strong transatlantic connection than a more autonomous EU.

The mainstream European thought might be summarised as follows: A robust transatlantic security cooperation, if feasible, and strategic autonomy for Europe if required. For the time being, it would be wise for Europe would be wise to focus on the difficult task of increasing military capabilities. This will undoubtedly improve transatlantic relations by allowing Europe to become a more competent partner to the US.

The AUKUS agreement is part of a larger US ambition to counter the rising Chinese empire and ambition. The purchase of highly powerful submarines by Australia enhances that endeavour. The Biden administration has made it clear that it intends to create a unified front of capitalist democracies to deal with China on all issues – security, trade, technology, and the western concept of human rights. Despite putting greater maritime power in the hands of an ally, the AUKUS agreement has resulted in a diplomatic setback to promoting transatlantic unity. It’s a one-step forward, two-step-back situation.

HMS Victorious | Horizons from Narratives Magazine
The AUKUS submarine: bone of contention.

Furthermore, reaching an agreement that includes the United Kingdom, but not France or any other EU member, particularly in the wake of Brexit, has problematic optics for Washington. From this point of view, it seems sensible to urge London to keep its promises of a post-Brexit Global Britain. But was it possible to put together a deal that included the UK, France and other EU members? The military and diplomatic components of the United States’ anti-China policy lacks cohesion.

Communication with France was not as effective as it should have been. Will Washington attempt to mend ties with Paris by exploring ways to include France and Europe more generally into its Indo-Pacific policy? This may imply that France, other EU countries, and the EU participate in Indo-Pacific military, diplomatic and economic efforts. This now appears a difficult call.

Despite their commonalities, the United States and its European allies may not agree on every element of the China policy. Washington will now have to go out of its way to preserve the transatlantic connection and create a unified front of western powers and their allies to cope with China’s ascent.

Indian officials must be worried about any negative effect on collaboration between the United States and Europe on topics such as technology or building resilient supply chains. Additionally, Delhi must be concerned about the detrimental effect that persistent tensions may have on maritime security. For example, the Quad members took part in a French-led naval drill in the Bay of Bengal earlier this year. And the trilateral between Australia, France, and India is focused on this problem. Delhi should also be concerned about the ramifications of US-French cooperation in international organisations. Recently, this has often benefitted Indian interests. The United Nations Security Council had even helped India directly when China supported Pakistan. Delhi wants the United States and Europe to assist it in violating international laws, norms and standards, which is to India’s benefit.

Relations between China and India have been volatile since last year’s border clash in June which resulted in heavy losses to the Indian side. Rather than meet China halfway and resolve their disagreements via open dialogue, India appears eager to snuggle up to other influences. That’s why it joined the Quad, an informal regional alliance that includes, Australia, Japan and the US.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke at the UN General Assembly, stressing the need to preserve the oceans from “expansion and exclusion,” referencing China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific.

It occurred after the Quad leaders, in a joint declaration, pledged to “refocus ourselves and the world on the Indo-Pacific” and promote “the free, open, rules-based system, entrenched in international law and undaunted by coercion.”

This clique clearly wants to gang up on China.

India should tread carefully when dealing with bilateral matters to avoid being misled and exploited as a pawn in the US-led geopolitical game against China. It should also acknowledge that the Quad represents an antiquated zero-sum thinking and ideological bias of the US. New Delhi should not let its border issue with Beijing obscure the US pursuit of its “order” in the area.

Ibrahim Sajid | Horizons from Narratives Magazine
Ibrahim Sajid Malick
Editor, Narratives