US, UK, Australia Form Anti-China Coalition While Allies Remain amid the Shadow of Betrayal

On Sept. 15, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia announced the formation of a trilateral security pact AUKUS (an abbreviation of the three countries’ names), through which the U.S. and U.K. will aid Australia in obtaining nuclear-powered submarine technology. Australia canceled a contract to purchase diesel-electric submarines from France, prompting France to recall its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia in protest. A week later, President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke on the phone. After acknowledging and owning responsibility for the failure to consult openly about the submarine deal, Biden made plans to meet with Macron next month. While the crisis between the U.S. and France over the submarines has temporarily been averted, the shadow of betrayal by an ally remains.

From withdrawing troops from Afghanistan to snatching away submarine contracts, the U.S. is aiming to reorganize the anti-China coalition. However, America’s arbitrary action, which disregarded the strategic interests of its allies, has caused feelings of deep betrayal. Biden admitted to Macron that there should have been open consultation, and conceded that open dialogue will prevent the situation from exacerbating. The BBC described the French and American joint statement that followed the call as a typical American non-apology: apologizing for the process (the lack of consultation) but not the policy itself (AUKUS). The U.S. has not changed its goal of challenging China, but will it change how it achieves its objectives?

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks 20 years ago, President George W. Bush famously said, “Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” At the time, faced with the choice of confronting terrorists or sheltering them, most countries sided with the U.S. Yet 20 years later, America’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is a betrayal, and breaks the promise it made to the allies who followed the U.S. to war. Today, in the face of China’s strategic competitiveness, the U.S. once again is asking allies to follow its lead, as it maintains an “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” attitude. The U.S. casts aside countries it does not trust, even if they’re allies.

France is a good example. At the Group of Seven summit in June, as the U.S., U.K. and Australia finalized the details of the submarine deal, Macron was kept in the dark, a fact which added to his outrage. In a strong verbal attack, France’s foreign minister spoke of lies, betrayal and being stabbed in the back. France’s ambassador to the U.S. also condemned AUKUS for not including France or other European allies, illustrating the disunity of Western allies in the face of Indo-Pacific challenges.

Another country that has been abandoned by AUKUS is New Zealand, which, in 1986, banned U.S. nuclear-powered ships from entering its waters as part of a nuclear-free policy. Although Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the days before the AUKUS announcement, Ardern indicated that New Zealand would not end the decades old ban on nuclear-powered ships, even for Australian nuclear-powered submarines.

AUKUS demonstrates that compared with other Western countries, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia constitute the nucleus of the anti-China coalition, and signals a coming era where countries will be “either friend or foe.” Another anti-China coalition made up of the U.S., Japan, Australia and India, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, held its first in-person summit on Sept. 24. While the QUAD considered India’s position, the Taiwan Strait was not mentioned in statements after the summit. This highlights the “friend or foe” mentality that will push countries originally neutral countries nito the opposing camp. Countries that are willing to join the alliance are worried about making enemies, and they are choosing to stay neutral, thus creating enormous pressure for European and Asian countries.

The formation of AUKUS was a blow for France and the European Union. And given the lingering shadow of the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Europe has been forced to seriously consider strategic autonomy. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen declared that Europe should establish its own defense alliance. Next year, France will assume presidency of the EU and will host an EU defense summit. Historically, the U.S. has trusted the U.K. over other European countries, and other European countries do not consider the U.S. to be a reliable partner.

The issue of picking sides for Asian countries is even more sensitive. Although the U.S. is a global hegemonic power, China’s huge market and fleet of Communist Party ships are at the doorstep. Therefore, countries in the Indo-Pacific region have reacted very cautiously to AUKUS, in fear of being drawn into a confrontation between major powers. For example, as soon as Vietnam bade farewell to Vice President Kamala Harris following her recent visit, it welcomed Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who left almost as soon as he arrived, after which Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi arrived. Hanoi welcomes many visitors but is not choosing sides.

The current global order is being reshaped, and it is not necessarily dependent on the U.S. As the U.S. adopts a friend-or-foe strategy, its opponents will respond the same way. In recent days, Wang visited Vietnam, South Korea and Singapore in response to America’s organization of an anti-China alliance. The entire world fears sinking into opposing factions similar to the situation that existed during the Cold War, something that would be unfortunate for the U.S. and China, and for the world. It would be even more risky for Taiwan.

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