Cracks surface in Biden’s China-focused alliance rebuilding - GulfToday

Cracks surface in Biden’s China-focused alliance rebuilding


Antony Blinken. File

Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom, Reuters

European capitals celebrated a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in June, as President Joe Biden’s top diplomat cracked jokes in French in Paris, posed for selfies with French youth and spoke at length about revitalizing the transatlantic relationship.

It was a breath of fresh air after four years of former President Donald Trump’s brash “America First” administration, during which US ties with Europe lurched from one crisis to another amid policy decisions that often blindsided European countries. But less than three months after Blinken’s repair tour, Washington finds itself in an unprecedented diplomatic crisis with France over a trilateral deal with Britain to supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines that sank a $40 billion contract for French-designed vessels.

France reacted with fury, saying the new deal had been hatched behind its back and resorting to language almost unheard of in public pronouncements between allies, calling it “brutal” and a “stab in the back”.

Joe Biden. File

On Friday it went further, taking the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassadors to Washington and Australia and accusing the Biden administration of acting like Trump in pushing Paris aside. Analysts say the crisis is more than commercial, and one of trust, and even if US officials hope it will blow over quickly, it has the potential to do lasting damage to the alliance with France and Europe and throws into doubt the united front Washington has been seeking to forge against China’s growing power.

French diplomats said they first learned of the deal when news leaked in Australian media hours before the official announcement on Wednesday, although Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted he had made clear to French President Emmanuel Macron in June that he might scrap the agreement with France.

Either way, from the French perspective, the US move flies in the face of what Biden’s administration has pledged since the end of the Trump era: a return to multilateralism and close cooperation with partners and allies, with Europe an important element of that.

“This makes Europeans realize that maybe some of Trump’s policies, beyond the scandals and the tweets, were not an aberration but signaled a deeper shift away from Europe,” said Benjamin Haddad, director of the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center.

“At a time when the Biden administration wants to rally Europeans in a common transatlantic front to push back against Chinese assertiveness, why not bring in the key EU actor in the region?”

Some see further clumsy policy-making by Biden’s administration hard on the heels of his chaotic end to America’s two decade-long intervention in Afghanistan, about which European nations complained they had not been properly consulted.

“Just like Afghanistan, this new ‘America First’ opus is poorly conceived and even more poorly executed,” a French diplomat said.

While the NATO allies might well find ways to recover from what some see as the worst diplomatic crisis in their history, experts warn of serious harm to Biden’s broader China strategy.

The trilateral submarine deal should strengthen the hand of the United States and its allies in the face of growing Chinese power, but the damage caused by the alienation of France could outweigh this. “China must be laughing all the way to the bank,” said Francois Heisbourg, senior advisor for Europe at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “They have the prospect of removing Europe’s potential presence alongside the US in the Indo-Pacific area.”

Though stronger US-Australia ties would concern the Chinese government, France, the EU’s leading military power, has taken a strong stance in urging a tough line on China when other EU countries such as Germany have seemed more concerned about not upsetting commercial ties with Beijing.

Related articles