RealClearWorld Newsletters: Europe Memo

A Slow British Pivot to China

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When U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) spoke with RealClearWorld this March, he made no effort to veil his irritation at the strategic drift of one of America's staunchest allies:

"The United Kingdom has every right to join with who they want to," Sessions said, referencing London's decision to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, as a founding member, over Washington's objections. "But I presume they'd like to continue to benefit from the American umbrella; our military power. Of the Europe-United States defense budget, the United States spends 70 percent, Europe spends 30, and they just go to bed at night assuming they have the total support of the United States."

The AIIB may prove to be a harbinger. Quietly, there are indications the United Kingdom may be projecting a China-centric Asia pivot of its own. Fraser Nelson describes the outlook of George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer. Urbane, cosmopolitan, and fully a product of the 21st century, Osborne is tabbed as a likely choice to be the next prime minister of the United Kingdom:

"During his five-day trip to China this week, George Osborne went further. At times he seemed to be auditioning for the role of the Chinese Communist Party's new best friend. ‘Let's stick together to make Britain China's best partner in the West,' he declared at the Shanghai stock exchange - the scene of much mayhem in recent months. He went so far as to claim that Britain and China were ‘two countries whose cultures have done more to shape the world than almost anyone else'.

‘No economy in the world is as open to Chinese investment as the UK,' he declared. All told, the Chancellor looked as if he was attempting the world record for the longest kowtow in diplomatic history. The Chinese will seldom have seen anything like it."

British foreign policy is adrift. External relations were never a topic during the general election campaign; the country is at least considering a radical overhaul of its relations with its closest allies and greatest trading partners, those in Europe; an adviser to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton privately expressed that "the UK is no partner and no bridge to Europe." Meanwhile, those most hostile to Britain's EU membership believe the country would do better to reclaim control of its trade policy and craft a series of bilateral agreements: with America, with the European Union, with Commonwealth countries.

Such a juncture of speculation and distraction would seem a troubling time to quietly reorient a foreign policy. The Economist:

"That this shift is so little discussed in Britain is remarkable. It could transform the country's role in the world. The Foreign Office is already diverting resources from Europe to China; from political desks to trade ones. Britain's growing friendship with Beijing appears to be losing it pals in Washington. Its new commercial links hardwire its economy into that of a vast partner whose stockmarket has fallen by almost 40% in the past three months. Mr Osborne points out that Britain is bound to the EU, too. But it is about to have a year-long debate, followed by a referendum, about that relationship. Where are the parliamentary wrangles over China? The prominent sinologists in Britain's public life? The headlines about the intrusions on British sovereignty by the economic giant to which Britain is, for better or worse, tethering itself?"

Chinese President Xi Jinping will pay a state visit to Britain in October.

Around the Continent

Renzi Takes on Europe's Left: As mentioned in yesterday's memo, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, embroiled in a political struggle with his own center-left Democratic Party, has been lashing out far-left figures both domestic and abroad. Renzi had some choice words for Britain's Labour Party, and its new leader, Jeremy Corbyn:

"'After what happened with Corbyn, I think [David] Cameron is the happiest of all about Corbyn's win,' said Renzi said in a speech to lawmakers in his own party.

He added: 'It's not a question of being Blairite or anti-Blairite, it's a matter of "Do you want to go to elections like you go to the Olympics, to win or to participate?"'

It was not the first time that Renzi expressed a sense of exasperated frustration in the wake of the Corbyn victory.

Last week, Renzi said on a radio programme: 'The last one called "Red" was Ed Miliband, who took a mighty slap in the face from Cameron. I don't think people who want to get out of Nato want to win elections.'"

Should Assad stay or should he go? France and Germany don't agree:

"Berlin and Paris' contradictory approaches to the war in Syria were on display at the EU summit on migration in Brussels when - in separate news conferences in the early hours of Thursday - the two leaders gave different answers to questions about Damascus.

'There has to be a conversation with many different actors, among them Assad and others - not just the United States of America and Russia, but also regional important partners like Iran, and Sunni countries like, for instance, Saudi Arabia,' said Merkel.

'Bashar al-Assad cannot be involved in the future of Syria. The transition would not be successful unless he leaves,' said President Hollande, who announced the week before last that France was preparing for air strikes in Syria. Last week, the French defense minister said the attacks would come in a matter of weeks."

No love for Manchester: From the Guardian:

"An Iranian man who walked into a police station and demanded to be deported has said he did so because he was 'fed up' with living in Manchester.

Arash Aria was arrested after telling officers he had been staying in the UK illegally for 10 years, but was later released when immigration checks found he did have permission to live in the country.

Greater Manchester police (GMP) described the episode as 'strange'."

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