US-UK deal weak in substantive cooperation; Hyping ‘Russia, China threats’ a gesture to hide imbalance in transatlantic ties
Published: Jun 09, 2023 09:20 PM Updated: Jun 09, 2023 10:00 PM


The UK and the US unveiled on Thursday a deal for a transatlantic partnership aimed at bolstering economic security "in response to threats from China and Russia," a pathetic attempt that experts see as masking their lack of substantive cooperation through hollow, politically symbolic gestures. The seemingly closer alliance, however, is mostly "wishful thinking" on the part of the UK, as the US will not grant the concessions it desires but only further move Britain more firmly into its orbit.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and US President Joe Biden announced on Thursday the "Atlantic Declaration" at a joint press conference at the White House, brushing off Sunak's failure to deliver on the promise made in 2019 to land a free trade deal with the US.

Reaffirming Britain's "special relationship" with the US, Sunak said, "Countries like China and Russia are willing to manipulate and exploit our openness, steal our intellectual property, use technology for authoritarian ends or withdraw crucial resources like energy. They will not succeed."

The agreement is a series of mini deals looking for cooperation in artificial intelligence, critical minerals, clean energy and security, CNBC reported.

As the first steps in this new partnership, the two countries will "take concrete and coordinated actions" across five pillars, including critical and emerging technologies, economic security and technology protection, defense, and space, according to a statement released by the White House.

Experts said the declaration is more of a cover-up aimed at concealing the fact that London is unable to secure its desired trade deal with Washington.

"While failing to deliver [the trade deal], Britain still wants to revive its ties with the US. Only aligning itself with the new economic strategies of the US will allow that," Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Friday.

Mentioning the "threat" from China and Russia is also driven by the UK's aim of appeasing its big brother and justifying its actions, Cui added.

Another point that Sunak wants to demonstrate through the declaration is that he is trying to give a positive spin to the Conservative Party and enhance his own reputation, as the current administration is facing numerous challenges including the mess left by the Brexit turmoil, internal divisions, questions over its governing competence and the waning reputation of his party, Zhao Junjie, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of European Studies, told the Global Times on Friday.

Observers said that the new pact will only make the US-UK relationship more unbalanced and reduce the former empire "on which the sun never sets" to Washington's little sidekick, with a weakening "bargaining power" and fading international influence.

Facing a disappointed British public that slammed Sunak as coming away "empty-handed", UK officials insisted the new targeted approach was "a better response to the economic challenges posed by Beijing," British media reported.

Meanwhile, Biden has made no secret of his lack of interest in negotiating a bilateral trade deal with the UK, with negotiations now in the deep freeze until 2025 at the earliest, the Sky News report said.

Zhao told the Global Times that another major aim of Sunak's trip is to recommend the British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace as a candidate for the next Secretary-General of NATO, as the alliance prepares a summit in Vilnius next month. The current Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is set to leave in October.

By hyping China's "threat" and deepening the alliance with NATO, Sunak is trying to give Wallace a head-start over his competitors, the expert said.

According to the White House statement, the UK and US will deepen engagement in the Indo-Pacific, partner with Pacific Islands, advance through AUKUS and expand joint exercises and planning.

However, while the bloc is primarily influenced by the US, major European powers such as France and Germany have already expressed their reluctance to let Wallace take the lead, and may align with other European countries to hinder the UK's intention, experts noted.