The newsworthy story and the momentous political development is not the exit of France from the newly formed pact—which it considered as a stab in the back - after its exclusion from the anti-China strategic alliance and the lucrative military deal. The more important headline is the formation of the new alliance between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia (Aukus) to counter China, whether for the defense of the allied countries in that Pacific region, such as Australia, South Korea and Japan, or as an offensive alliance to besiege China.
France’s fury and frustration will hardly change anything, because it will remain a US ally within the NATO framework, and a heavyweight political and economic partner. All the French can do is seek out another role for themselves within the Western hierarchy.
The latest development points to the US rekindling of Britain as a pivotal country in the international conflict landscape, comparable to its roles during WWII and the Cold War—from then on it slipped into decline over the past two decades. Brexit appears to have unshackled it from the constraints of Brussels, where collective policy is decided and voted upon. Had Britain not broken off from the E.U. it could not have joined the new alliance. This transformation will amplify Britain’s role in other areas pertinent to competition and conflict with China, including the Middle East - which today serves as a vital oil lifeline for the Asian superpower. London’s exit from the E.U. had downsized its role and was injurious to its status and economy.
The Sino-US conflict is mounting continually. The Americans have repeatedly expressed concern and discontent in the years following China’s expansion into US spheres of influence, such as Pakistan, Western Asia and the Horn of Africa. The unveiling of a clandestine Chinese offer to Iran - under a 25-year cooperation agreement covering strategic sectors, including oil and military manufacturing - also drew US criticism.
It is more likely that tensions in the South China Sea since 2015 are what prompted the Americans to revive Cold War alliances, after US impotence became apparent in that region. Washington maintains that China, by accelerating its construction of artificial islands and broadening its reach and military activity, threatens US allies, such as the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, by stoking competition for resources in these countries. After decades of cooperation, the dispute flared up during the Barack Obama administration, who accused China of “not abiding by international laws and norms and trying to extend its power and flexing its muscles to force some countries into submission.”
Needless to say, the US’ true concerns are more than that: it is the unyielding growth and expansion of Chinese power and influence. China’s economic, industrial, scientific and military successes worry Washington, which sees the Dragon as a threat to its interests, and indeed to itself, in the future. On par with the Tripartite Alliance with Britain and Australia, Washington will seek to build anti-Chinese partnerships in several areas and regions to serve as bulwarks that stand in the face of Chinese expansion. This means that we are officially witnessing the reemergence of the Cold War, the race between superpowers, and the division of the world accordingly.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
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