Sunday, April 21, 2024
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Absent friends at the anti-China get-together


BETTER late than never: Britain, the US and Australia have rebooted their special relationships, announcing ‘an enhanced trilateral security partnership’. This aims at ‘deeper integration of security and defence-related science, technology, industrial bases, and supply chains’. In the short term, the three states ‘will focus on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and additional undersea capabilities’. As an immediate step, Britain and the US will assist Australia in the development of nuclear-powered submarines. 

Each country’s leader appeared by video, simultaneously, from their respective capitals. This was significant, given that President Biden has failed to make time to meet Prime Minister Johnson outside multilateral conferences, has been shy of backing up Australia’s hawkish stance on China, and failed to notify either ally before an accelerated exit from Afghanistan. 

This is for real. The parties have agreed material co-operation on substantive issues. Of course, beyond that nothing is agreed except as general intents. This is primarily about containment of China’s naval ambitions. The document’s further mention of cyber security allows for cooperation against companies such as Huawei, although the Biden administration is not as committed as the Trump administration was to restraining US firms working with Chinese companies on dual-use artificial intelligence claimed to be fuelling Beijing’s military development.

None of this necessarily has any effect on the dual-use technology problem, though the British government has already made it more difficult for Chinese students working in sensitive research. It is still a good and overdue move for Britain, the US, and Australia. 

But why not Canada and New Zealand? For many years, majorities in each of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have favoured more integration. Some advocates want even a free trade area. (I am one of these advocates of CANZUK.) Some advocates wish to include the US in that same integration, although others see CANZUK as a necessary move to self-reliance, given American trends to isolationism and downright unreliability.

In theory, this week’s bold new partnership, known as AUKUS for short, strengthens moves towards a CANZUKUS. However, the US, Canada and New Zealand are governed by radical progressives whose woke politics are fashionably anti-Western.

The fashionable line is that CANZUK at best neglects larger economic opportunities through cooperation with China, and at worst is anti-Chinese. CANZUK was always defamed as nostalgia for empire, and a club for majority-white countries.

Yes, the current leaders of the US, Canada and New Zealand often voice concerns about China, but they also make excuses.

President Biden condemns China’s lack of co-operation on the origins of Covid-19, but his administration has only recently admitted that US federal funds and contractors were involved in ‘change of function’ research at Wuhan, and the US intelligence community’s all-agency report claimed a lack of evidence for definitive conclusions.

Justin Trudeau’s administration of Canada has a reputation for avoiding any offence to China, including dragging its heels on extraditing China’s spies to the US (as leverage, China detained Canadian citizens on espionage charges). While Trudeau has come out hawkish in recent months, ahead of a tight general election campaign, the Liberal Party keeps being hit by revelations of China’s influence on Liberal politicians. The latest is that Trudeau’s memoir was published in China by a state-controlled company in a deal that Trudeau failed to declare to Parliament. 

New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, a graduate of communications studies, a lover of social media and a former employee of the Blair administration, immediately confirmed that Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines would not be allowed in New Zealand’s waters (any more than any other nation’s would be). More significantly, she wasn’t consulted about AUKUS. What would be the point? As she said herself: ‘We weren’t approached, nor would I expect us to be.’

In April this year, when Australia suggested that the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence sharing arrangement should grow into a defensive CANZUKUS aimed against China, Ardern’s foreign secretary Nanaia Mahuta immediately vetoed the idea. ‘We would much rather prefer to look for multilateral opportunities to express our interests on a number of issues,’ she added. She has repeatedly asserted an ‘independent’ and ‘values-based’ foreign policy.

At this week’s announcement of AUKUS, Joe Biden, Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison did not mention China, but their joint statement pledged ‘to deepen diplomatic, security, and defence cooperation in the Indo-Pacific’, and officials confirmed that AUKUS is aimed primarily at China.

Otherwise, the British government has no policy on Western integration. One explanation is that too many civil servants and politicians are still corrupted by China’s influence. Another is that too many civil servants and politicians are still corrupted by the EU’s influence. The British elite has always caricatured CANZUK as anti-European and/or anti-China. Surveys prove a smaller majority in favour of CANZUK in Britain than the other countries (although it’s still a majority).

The EU stuck their oar in, complaining that they were not consulted before the press conference. Why should they be consulted? The EU’s integrative efforts are not directed outside the EU. Moreover, they undermine Nato. (I am expressing Nato’s official position, not just mine.)

To add to the apparent distance from the EU, France complains that not only was it not consulted but that Australia is abandoning a contract for France to build submarines. This is a bit rich, given that no contract was concluded (although it was in discussion). The US government claimed that it did notify France (although we can take that with a pinch of salt, given Biden’s retrospective claims to have consulted allies about his handling of Afghanistan).

Johnson’s jump into AUKUS clarifies Britain’s direction on China, the EU and Western integration. Thanks to Theresa May’s duplicity as Prime Minister, Britain quietly joined many programmes of European defence integration even as she was supposedly negotiating Brexit.

Johnson’s reshuffle of his Cabinet further clarifies his direction. The new Foreign Secretary is Liz Truss, with a respectable record on calling out China and achieving trade deals, including with Australia.

More Western integration is coming, although changes of administration in the US, Canada, and New Zealand would be necessary before we ever see the sort of CANZUKUS that would really contain China.

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Bruce Newsome
Bruce Newsome
Bruce Newsome is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas Permian Basin. He is also the author of the anti-woke satire "The Dark Side of Sunshine" (Perseublishing, 2020).

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