Gideon Rachman © 2021 The Financial Times Ltd.
As a general rule of thumb, it is a good idea to be wary of people who keep talking about the “Anglo-sphere”. In Britain, it’s an idea reminiscent of imperial and World War II nostalgia. The notion dates back to Winston Churchill, who wrote “History of the English Speaking Peoples” in four volumes.
Now, however, the idea of an Anglosphere is taking on unexpected contemporary relevance. The trigger is the increasingly assertive behavior of China, which is uniting a group of English-speaking countries, which have adopted more aggressive policies towards Beijing.
The Trump administration started a trade war with China and increased naval operations in the Pacific. The will to confront Beijing will clearly persist, in a modified form, during the Joe Biden administration. The new US President has promised “extreme competition” with China. The first phone call between Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, and Yang Jiechi, his Chinese counterpart, was scathing.
However, some of the US’s European allies are very suspicious of what they fear is a new cold war with China. The European Union (EU) surprised Biden’s team by signing a new investment agreement with Beijing, ignoring calls for consultation with the US. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, did her best in a recent speech to warn against the anti-China stance that divides the world into blocs. Emmanuel Macron, President of France, has made similar statements.
By contrast, the US has more support from the UK, Australia and Canada. All of these nations have seen their relations with Beijing deteriorate dramatically in the past two years. As a result, they are more inclined to adopt the US view that China’s rise is a threat that must be countered.
Australia’s aggressiveness is partly a product of close links between the Washington and Canberra security systems. But it is also the result of the imposition of trade sanctions by China in response to the 14 Australian “sins”, identified by China, including the fact that Canberra requested an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19. .
The arrest in Canada of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, in response to a US extradition request, sparked anger in Beijing. Shortly afterwards, two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were arrested in China and charged with espionage. They have basically been held hostage ever since. Relations between Canada and China are at their worst since diplomatic ties were restored 50 years ago.
British opinion of China has also been transformed over the past year. China’s crackdown in Hong Kong sparked outrage in political circles. The UK has offered a path to citizenship for potentially millions of Hong Kong residents, a move denounced in Beijing. Each week seems to bring a new deterioration in relations between the UK and China. The British media regulator just banned CGTN, the Chinese broadcaster, on the grounds that it is ultimately controlled by the Communist Party. China has denounced the BBC for spreading allegations of systematic rape in Uighur detention camps. Relations could cool further this year when the British send an aircraft carrier to the Pacific, where it will participate in exercises with the US Navy.
The Chinese government has realized the emergence of this Anglosphere. When the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK issued a joint statement on Hong Kong, China’s official response was fierce. These countries form the intelligence exchange group “Five Eyes”, which led Zhao Lijian, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, to comment: “It does not matter if they have five or ten eyes, if they dare to damage sovereignty from China, they must be careful that their eyes are not hurt and blinded. “
British officials point out that Cinco Ojos is not an alliance, its mission does not go beyond intelligence. But now there is talk of giving the group a more obvious political advantage by adding a sixth set of eyes. Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, has suggested that they might invite Japan to join. Many Chinese observers in Washington are interested in this suggestion, although the US intelligence community is skeptical.
Japan is not the only Asian nation being courted by the Anglosphere. India is also central to the strategic thinking of Washington, London and Canberra, as indicated by the growing fashion for the term “Indo-Pacific” in all three capitals. The US changed the name of its Pacific military command to command “Indo-Pacific” in 2018. It is also likely that a lot of emphasis will be placed on the Indo-Pacific in Britain’s new national security strategy, which will be published soon.
New Delhi has always protected its autonomy in foreign policy matters. As an emerging superpower, it has no intention of being used by Washington, much less London.
On the other hand, in what is probably considered a historic mistake, China killed Indian troops in a clash in the Himalayas last June. Since then, India’s attitude towards China has hardened considerably, as Delhi has exerted pressure through controls on Chinese investment and technology. Technology cooperation is an area where India and the Anglosphere are likely to collaborate. India is already part of the “Quadrilateral”, which brings together the US, Australia, Japan and India for naval exercises.
As the US looks for allies willing to stand up to China, the Anglosphere plus the major Asian democracies seems the most promising combination.