China’s friends are few and unreliable

China’s friends are few and unreliable

Amid escalating competition, China and the United States are actively shoring up their diplomatic relationships in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. Such partnerships confer significant advantages, from military base access to favorable political outcomes, as well as potential trade opportunities.

Despite the Trump Administration’s threats of trade-war and questioning of U.S. alliances, the U.S. has fared quite well diplomatically. The U.S. has deepened ties with its Indo-Pacific treaty allies — Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand — even if Manila and Bangkok have flirted with Beijing.

Washington has made headway with India, upgraded its unofficial partnership with Taiwan, stepped up engagement of Pacific Island countries, and is competitive throughout most of Southeast Asia. America’s Indo-Pacific vision of keeping the region free and open has also resonated with friendly Western European countries, like France, Germany, and the U.K. The U.S. has further multilateralized coordination with partners as well. Just this past week, in Tokyo, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met his counterparts from Australia, India, and Japan for the latest Quad discussions, and though left unstated, it is clear that pushing back against China topped their agenda.

China, by contrast, has undermined trust with its neighbors in recent years. Its belligerent tone, muscular foreign policy, and near-constant saber-rattling have won it no new friends. China maintains zero alliances, and its partnerships are mostly with pariah states that are unreliable, unimportant, or both.