The Five Eyes is an intelligence alliance comprising the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand formed during the Cold War. The alliance played a huge role in helping the US and the West win the Cold War, but was not disbanded after.
Instead, it evolved into one of the most powerful intelligence monitoring systems in the world.
Relying on their superior intelligence collecting capabilities, the Five Eyes has been carrying out large-scale indiscriminate cyber espionage, and surveillance on foreign governments, enterprises and individuals for a long time in violation of international law and basic norms of international relations.
Amid strained China-Australia relations, Five Eyes nations are reportedly in preliminary discussions on how to respond to China’s actions with one source describing cooperation within the alliance as “off the charts at the moment”, NewsCorp reported. That means they may coordinate to impose restrictions on China. As a matter of fact, due to the hegemonic status and great influence of the US in world affairs, the Five Eyes alliance has become a tool for the US to maintain its dominant position. The US has long viewed China as a major strategic threat, and it is not surprising that it would lead the Five Eyes alliance to take collective actions against China for a variety of reasons.
Take ideological differences, for example. The US and other Five Eyes countries are typical Western countries with democratic political systems, and they harbor widespread bias against Chinese socialist ideological values. The Five Eyes countries subconsciously view China with a Cold War and zero-sum game mentality. On the basis of ideology, these countries highlight their identity as democratic and free countries by cooperating to counter “Communist China.”
The West is also extremely anxious about its decline. Western countries had been at the center of world development and dominated the development process of modern society for the past 400 years. However, in recent years, deep-seated political and economic contradictions in Western countries have become more marked. The West’s anxiety is actually a kind of hegemonic angst stemming from a sense of fear and helplessness.
For this reason, Western countries, represented by the Five Eyes, are reintroducing an old Cold War mentality of containing their rivals and pre-empting others to jointly deal with challenges brought by the rise of China and other emerging countries.
Nonetheless, the Five Eyes’ concerted actions against China will be more of a show if they really implement as reported. The national interests of Five Eyes countries are not exactly the same. As such, some countries may even suffer huge losses from the coordinated actions against China.
US’ aim is to encourage the Five Eyes countries to work together and suppress the rise of China while sustain the US hegemony. However, the UK may be unwilling to sacrifice too much its relationship with China because it is an important source of foreign investment. In spite of deteriorating relations with China, it is not in Australia’s national interest to sever ties with a country that is a major importer of its commodities. Trade between China and Canada, New Zealand is very important to the two countries’ economic development. Above all, it is difficult for the Five Eyes countries to work together to restrain China.
More importantly, China has become the backbone of globalization and multilateralism after the US withdrew from a series of international treaties and organizations. China has become an important engine of the world economy and a major driver of globalization. Amid the COVID-19 crisis this year, China’s economy took the lead to recover and was predicted to be the only major economy that is likely to achieve positive growth this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. More and more countries, including some Western countries, have realized that China is on the right side of world development.
The idea to build the Five Eyes alliance into a new anti-China axis is a wishful thinking. It will only encounter harsh realities. As Viscount Palmerston, England’s former foreign secretary, said in 1848, “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”
The author is a research fellow at the Beijing-based China Center for Contemporary World Studies.