New world order: can Britain, America and Australia contain China?

New world order: can Britain, America and Australia contain China? By James Forsyth. The title should also mention the help from India and Japan, and most of China’s smaller neighbors.

Britain is no longer trying to stay neutral in the competition between the US and China. It has firmly sided with the United States. …

The new alliance is all about mutual interest. The Aussies wanted lasting protection from China, which France could not provide, so Britain stepped in, with America, ready to share nuclear-powered submarine technology. Joe Biden is looking beyond Nato, to a new coalition of the willing prepared to help it in its bid to check Chinese power in Asia. …

An alliance for the long term:

The US has secured a toughening of the UK’s line on China. And because of the institutional nature of this three-way alliance, it can be confident that Britain won’t change its mind and try to court favour with Beijing again.

‘The relationship has foundations deep enough that it can survive whatever political winds are blowing,’ says one British source. This is vital. It means that the pact doesn’t depend on any personal chemistry between leaders; that defence and technology cooperation between these three countries will now continue regardless of how well the residents of the White House, Downing Street and the Lodge get on. …

Blowback from Australia:

Australia sells more to China than its next eight export customers put together, creating an economic dependency that might — in another country — have been accompanied by political fealty. Certainly, China thought deference was owed. It reacted with fury to Australia calling for an independent inquiry into the origins of Covid-19 (it is revealing just how upset Beijing got about this). Tariffs were slapped on Australian goods and bureaucratic obstacles raised to its exports. This was an attempt to bring Canberra into line — and a way of showing others how dangerous it is to question Beijing.

Australia has faced cyber attacks which have all the hallmarks of a Chinese operation. Two Chinese spy ships placed themselves off the Queensland coast to watch the Australian military exercise with its allies. No wonder Australia — surrounded by three oceans — has decided it needs nuclear powered subs, which can travel further than the diesel-fuelled ones they had agreed to buy from the French. What started as a defence need morphed into a new military alliance.

The attraction for the US of such a deal was obvious. Washington is currently trying to construct a series of alliances in the Pacific to counter China. For Britain the appeal was that it showed how the UK could be relevant in this part of the world for decades to come. It gave new purpose to the 2007 decision to buy two aircraft carriers and it gave the Royal Navy a mission. …

Pacific technology:

The Pacific is where the future is being shaped. The US-China competition is technological as much as it is military. Countries that aren’t involved in the alliance structures of the region will find themselves being left behind technologically. Indeed, an important part of the Aukus partnership is cooperation on artificial intelligence, quantum computing and cyber warfare. …

The so-called Quad — the US, Japan, India and Australia, which started off being used for joint naval exercises — is now working together to build secure semiconductor supply chains.

The Aukus deal has been met with public enthusiasm in Japan and implicit encouragement in India — suggesting that, in time, there’ll be considerable overlap between these various US alliances. It’s even possible that Aukus could be expanded. The most likely country to be added to the pact would be Canada. … New Zealand, however, won’t be joining: it doesn’t allow nuclear submarines to operate in its waters, and Jacinda Ardern takes a very different view on China. …

Is time running out for any Chinese ambitions?

Aukus has its advantages, but there are also risks, the biggest coming not from China’s strength but its weakness. The Aukus submarines will take years to arrive and the danger is that Beijing tries to get ahead of the new alliances emerging in the Pacific, and tries its hand now, perhaps tightening its control over the waters around Taiwan. In a decade’s time, the US-led world order will be better placed to check China. The worry is what happens between now and then.

The influential American strategists Hal Brands and Michael Beckley have pointed out that — like Wilhelmine Germany or Imperial Japan in the 1940s — China might conclude that its rise is slowing, and that, if it doesn’t act now, then its moment of opportunity will have passed. This is what makes the next few years so dangerous. …

China’s rate of economic growth has halved since 2007. It is increasingly saddled with national debt — now an astonishing 280 per cent of GDP, far more than any European country.

China has been a middle-income country now for a quarter of a century, and is still pretty far from graduating to a high-income country. None of the countries that avoided the middle-income trap in the second half of the 20th century — South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore — spent three decades as a middle-income country.

Communists always go for force, rather than persuasion:

Beijing’s belligerence is compounding the problems. Its ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’ drove Australia into this new alliance and will see other countries join balancing coalitions. Japan’s decision to move away from its 1 per cent of GDP cap on defence spending is a result of Beijing’s attempt to turn the seas around it into Chinese lakes. China’s idiotic border skirmish with India in the Himalayas has pushed New Delhi to seek more cooperation with Washington. India was non-aligned in the first Cold War; it won’t be in the second one. …

The US position is bipartisan:

There are few issues of bipartisan agreement in American politics these days, but the need to counter China is one of them. We can, therefore, expect this US alliance building to become as central to US foreign policy as countering the Soviet threat was during the Cold War.

Washington is deliberately ambiguous on whether it would defend Taiwan from attack. But in reality, no US president would have a choice. Revealingly, Biden recently said that the US had a treaty obligation to protect Taiwan — even though it does not. To allow China to seize Taiwan would mark the end of the US-led world order.