As George Orwell so sagely put it, “to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle”. Sadly, this is a battle most political risk analysts are in danger of losing. For, in obsessing about the unicorn of a united, pro-American, anti-Chinese EU, foreign policy thinkers risk wholly neglecting an actually functioning anti-Chinese alliance right under their noses. The Anglosphere is by far the oddest creature in today’s great power jungle. The UK and the major English-speaking dominions of the former British Empire — united by a shared tradition of English Common Law and the individual political and economic freedoms that flow from it — are easy to overlook.
However, allied with the US since 1872 and the settling of the Alabama claims by Ulysses Grant and the British , the Anglosphere’s institutional and geographical heterogeneity belies a practical geostrategic closeness that Brussels cannot begin to match. Indeed, the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada act together so often that this most obvious of alliances is rendered almost invisible to the eye. The Anglosphere alliance is simply the most important foreign policy reality that no one is talking about.
In all of the major geostrategic contests in the last tumultuous century — the First and Second World Wars and the Cold War — much like a bickering Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who nonetheless always came out shooting together, all the Anglosphere countries found themselves on the same side in every single contest. This record of strategic closeness is unparalleled, and it is not an accident. Beyond marching in geostrategic lockstep on the big things, the Anglosphere economies are tightly bound together, while Anglo-Saxon economies have tended, over the past generation, to be more dynamic than their European counterparts, growing year-on-year at a much more robust rate. The five already invest very heavily in each other’s economies, which are densely interlinked. For example, the UK is the largest investor in US companies, with foreign direct investment amounting to $540bn. Likewise, the US is the primary investor in the UK, with accumulated stock of nearly $750bn.
Beyond geo-strategy and economics, in terms of intelligence matters the Anglosphere is already a superpower. The ‘Five Eyes’ amounts to the largest intelligence sharing consortium in the world. The US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have openly and automatically shared signals intelligence since 1956, in turn targeting the Soviet Union, global terrorism, and now the rise of China. For all these practical policy reasons, the Anglosphere is the great power grouping we really ought to be talking more about. And, with the rise of China, the non-US members have once again found a strategic rationale to tighten their already formidable bonds to America. That much has become all the more apparent, given the recent willingness on the part of several Anglosphere countries to stand up to Beijing.
Take Scott Morrison’s Australian government, which has shown the bravery to ask much needed, obvious but pointed questions about China’s role in the outbreak of Covid-19 late last year. Much to China’s chagrin, Foreign Minister Marise Payne has also taken the lead in calling for an independent investigation into the origins of the virus, including Beijing’s actions in its early stages. There is a cost to such forthright behaviour, of course. In May of last year, the Chinese took their revenge by imposing tariffs of up to 80% on Australian barley and banning large exports of Australian beef. Not that that appears to have weakened Morrison’s resolve, given that in July he announced his government would be suspending its extradition agreement with Hong Kong, prompting another predictably furious response from China.
For the UK, meanwhile, the break with Beijing follows a politically embarrassing U-turn over involving telecoms giant Huawei in its 5G networks. Having initially, rather unthinkingly, signaled that the Chinese company would play a lead role, Boris Johnson’s government then conducted an abrupt volte face in the face of a firestorm of criticism from other Anglosphere countries. They were right to do so, of course. Huawei has long had uncomfortably close ties with the Chinese government, as is true of all of the country’s major economic players. Beijing’s national security law of 2017 states plainly that the country’s businesses must “support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work”. This makes it crystal clear that if the Communist Party asks a Chinese business to hand over the personal data of its customers, there is no way it would refuse.
It was former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who led the charge to get its Anglosphere ally to change its disastrous initial decision. In June, he accused Huawei of being “an extension of the CCP’s surveillance state”. He also made it clear that the UK was risking its place in the coveted Five Eyes intelligence network – a threat that belatedly jolted Johnson’s government into a tortuous climbdown, with an announcement that all Huawei tech would be phased out of the network by 2023. But beyond American pleas, what really turned the tide in how the Johnson government viewed Beijing is China’s brutal clampdown in Hong Kong. For the UK is now graphically aware that the 1997 Sino-UK deal, in which London turned the territory over to Beijing under the safeguard of ‘one country, two systems’, has now been entirely undermined. China’s authoritarian mask has slipped, and its intentions have suddenly become chillingly clear. It’s particularly significant that, compared to Nato European allies such as Germany and France, who have kept the Huawei option open for their own 5G networks, all the Anglosphere countries have rejected Huawei. Once again, it seems, the five major partners in the Anglosphere find themselves on the same side of history.
Now, when it comes to facing a resurgent China, the West must now be thought of as divided into thirds: a neutralist Europe, an increasingly linked Anglosphere and the US, the latter two rooted together in a common identity, facing a common enemy. This is the most significant unseen change in global politics in our new era. The Anglosphere’s fortunes may soon become even brighter, due to typical Chinese strategic overreach. Already, the ‘Quad’ in Asia has emerged as the nascent strategic grouping standing up to Chinese adventurism. It is composed of core Anglosphere members the US and Australia, with honorary Anglosphere inductee Japan also involved. Vital India, undoubtedly part of the Anglosphere but with a different and more conflictual colonial history and tradition of non-alignment, is the last of the four members. Given this different history, Delhi has always shied away from Anglosphere participation; that is, until now. Subsequent to the Chinese aggression in the Himalayas, it is highly likely that proud India has now realised its strategic destiny is allied to an Anglosphere dedicated to limiting Chinese adventurism. The Anglosphere, far from being the past, may well be the future of international relations in our new age. Indeed, it may soon be topped off with the addition of the UK, according to reports from The Times.
Even the EU recognizes it and implicitly defines it. The list of countries exempt from the EU’s new vaccine export transparency directive does not include the UK (obviously), the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India, amongst others.
This geopolitical reshaping will of course have macroeconomic and market consequence, about which we will have more to say in subsequent pieces.