An Urban's Rural View

On China, the U.S. and EU Aren't on the Same Page

Urban C Lehner
By  Urban C Lehner , Editor Emeritus
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In 2003, when the French government opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, irate congressmen had the French fries served in congressional cafeterias renamed Freedom fries. A popular food item became the focal point of American unhappiness with France.

The unhappiness didn't last long. By 2006 many Americans were convinced the Iraq invasion had been a mistake and Congressmen were once again munching French fries with their burgers. In some years since, Americans have once again regarded France as the country that stood with them during the American Revolution. In 2016, Gallup reported that 87% of Americans had a favorable view of France, up from 34% in 2003. (…)

The favorability rating of the U.S. among the French has never reached the 80th percentile but there have been years since 2003 when it was in the 60s. In a Pew poll earlier this year it was 50%. (…)

It's no doubt well below 50% now. In the wake of the U.S. deal with Australia and the United Kingdom that led to the cancellation of a $60 billion French submarine contract with Australia, which France's foreign minister called "a stab in the back," Parisians were probably tempted to do some renaming of their own. Perhaps the Place des Etats-Unis (Square of the United States) in Paris could have become the Place de Voleurs (Square of Thieves).

No renaming took place. France did, however, take the drastic diplomatic step of recalling its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra. Eventually, President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by phone and agreed the situation would have benefited from better communication. France sent its ambassador back to Washington. We can expect more make-nice efforts soon.

It's possible, then, the tiff between the U.S. and France will fade away. The creation of the pact between the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia, known as AUKUS, won't.

AUKUS is about far more than submarines. It links the three countries in a wide variety of security-related issues in the Pacific. Many pundits see it marking a significant geopolitical shift, a game changer, a reshaping of the world order. The U.S. is finally getting serious about meeting the challenge from China, the pundits say.

They may be right. Other pundits have been quick to point out that the real challenge from China is as much economic as military. If the U.S. wants to get serious about China, they say, it should rejoin the Asian trade deal it negotiated for the very purpose of setting trade rules in Asia so the Chinese couldn't.

Instead, it's the Chinese who are knocking at the door of the 11-nation Transpacific-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which, after President Trump withdrew the U.S. from it, was renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP.

Some commentators also see AUKUS as an early warning sign of increasing strains between the U.S. and the European Union. Not only does a U.S. focus on Asia mean less attention to Europe, but with AUKUS the U.S. stiffed one of the EU's founding members, France, in favor of EU-apostate Britain.

For years Europe has tried to buddy-buddy the U.S. without getting too deeply involved when the U.S. takes on Russia or China. AUKUS challenges the EU once again to choose between the U.S. and China.

Chances are it will continue to duck that choice. Germany, writes German analyst Josef Joffe, "will try to please Uncle Sam, our security lender of last resort, but won't alienate China and Russia." He adds, "As goes Germany, so goes the rest of Europe; neither will act as Mr. Biden's lieutenant against Russia, China and Iran." (…)

While Europe and the U.S. share many of the same values, they don't always share the same interests. When interests differ, the two go their own ways. In establishing AUKUS that's what the U.S. did. The Europeans will likely return the favor by not joining the U.S. in standing up to China.

How much this divergence will worsen the U.S.-EU relationship is open to question. The answer will depend in part on the number and strength of the interests they continue to have in common.

Trade is one of those interests. According to the EU, the U.S. in 2020 was "the largest partner for EU exports of goods (18.3 %) and the second largest partner for EU imports of goods (11.8 %)." (…) The EU bought 16.2% of the goods the U.S. exported. (…) (…) And while the U.S. has a deficit with the EU in goods traded, "sales by U.S. companies' European subsidiaries exceed European companies' affiliate sales in the U.S. by a much wider margin."…

The two sides could deepen their trade ties even as they differ on how to deal with China. They've recently formed a high-level U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council to tackle "new and long-festering obstacles to commerce between the giant economies."…

Agriculture is not on the new council's agenda. No surprise, that. The EU runs a big ag trade surplus with the U.S. and has numerous tariff and nontariff barriers to U.S. ag products, but it has been reluctant to include agriculture in U.S.-EU trade talks.

That doesn't seem likely to change. To some extent -- though probably not to the point of renaming food products -- AUKUS will strain U.S.-EU relations. For America's farmers and ranchers, they've been strained for some time.

Urban Lehner can be reached at


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