China’s rise is no longer a regional phenomenon that primarily impacts Asia. It is a global force, putting pressure on alliances that underpin the liberal international order. Nowhere is this more true than in trans-Atlantic relations. China has just convinced America’s closest European allies to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Beijing’s proposed multilateral development bank, over concerted opposition from Washington. White House officials have condemned the “constant accommodation” of China by Britain and other European powers, and the topic was the subject of intense debate last weekend at the German Marshall Fund’s Brussels Forum.
But it is the United States that looks isolated in this diplomatic spat, even as Beijing’s leadership remains untested, and as Washington appears set to deliver trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic trade agreements that are far more important economically.
American officials worry that the allure of the Chinese market risks converting European allies into proponents of the kind of Ostpolitik that Cold War-era U.S. leaders feared could tear apart the Western alliance by turning Europeans into middlemen, horse-trading for advantage between rival superpowers. China is not yet a superpower like the Soviet Union was; it needs Europe’s technology and investment capital at least as much as Europeans need access to Chinese markets.China is not yet a superpower like the Soviet Union was; it needs Europe’s technology and investment capital at least as much as Europeans need access to Chinese markets. And as Russia’s army marches westward, Europeans still find U.S. defense guarantees rather useful. Nonetheless, in at least five ways, China threatens to crack the Atlantic alliance by challenging America’s privileged position in Europe.
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