“If we are to make it a world community of democracies, this is an absolutely crucial year,” the Delaware Democrat said. “This is a crucial moment in world history. In our history.”
Nowhere was the urgency level more acute than in Hong Kong, where China’s disintegration is seen as a test of the democratic nations̵
“We’re kind of disappearing before the eyes of the world,” Emily Lau, who was a lawmaker in the former British administration, said in a video appearance. “What disappears? Our freedom. Our personal security. The rule of law.”
However, there was a noticeable sense of optimism that a new government in Washington would once again play a leading role after President Donald Trump’s more one-sided approach alienated many of America’s traditional allies.
Angus Campbell, Australia’s defense chief, told the forum he was “very optimistic about the future of US power in the world.”
But there was also a strong sentiment that smaller democratic nations cannot just trust the United States
“The world is in crisis,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the Assembly, referring to the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and inequality. “Instead of crossing our fingers and hoping the big forces figure this out, let’s look at what we can do to make a difference together … Let’s not wait for someone else to act, let’s ourselves do it. “
While there was no broad consensus on how to restart the democratic alliance, the speakers agreed that the traditional arrangements that encouraged solidarity in the second half of the 20th century, such as NATO, the World Trade Organization and the United Nations, are insufficient. in their current forms of confronting China.
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, said that the Cold War era military alliance “should remain a regional alliance, but needs a more global approach” to manage China’s space, cyberspace and other domains, including by cooperating with Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
But the report, released at the beginning of the forum, which drew on the insights of 250 experts around the world, also warned that “there is no appetite for returning to the days when Asian countries are under Western power structures, even today they are under new leadership.
“What will work in Asia will be flexible alliances and partnerships between the United States and individual Asian nations, sometimes in combination with other Asian nations and sometimes with the additional participation of other allies outside Asia,” it added.
A promising model that several participants and Chinese observers agreed on is the four-sided security dialogue, or Quad, an informal partnership between the United States, India, Japan and Australia that has gained strength in recent years.
“There may well be aspects of the combination of four countries that can be replicated elsewhere,” the Halifax report claims. “There are few bells and whistles, and there does not have to be a useful partnership to work. Such practices could usher in a golden age of diplomacy as nations put these new partnerships together. ”
Robert Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama between 2006 and 2011, said in an interview that he believes the event, which was conceived in 2007, has turned out better than expected.
“This square, which has been developed – where India, Australia, Japan and the United States meet to defend the interests of democracies, politically, economically and militarily – is a very positive step,” he said.
But without added US military and diplomatic efforts, many others see more regional structures such as the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as inadequate vehicles.
For example, a new report from the Atlantic Council’s think tank argues that the United States should benefit from “extraordinary gains and interoperability and cooperation” between US and French military forces in order to strengthen the democratic presence in the Indian Pacific.
When it comes to trade, fashion appeals spoke of “a global free trade zone for democracies” to ensure less dependence on Chinese goods and technology.
“The agreement between the United States and Mexico and Canada and the European Union’s internal market are natural building blocks for the possible creation of such a global, democratic free trade club,” according to the Halifax report. “This should be extended to the United Kingdom, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and all other Indo-Pacific democracies, as well as democracies in Africa and Central and South America.
“From such a position of strength,” it adds, “democracies should then coordinate policy decisions and investment decisions related to consumer and supply chain dependency.”
China does not plan to relinquish this land. After signing the regional comprehensive economic partnership on November 15 – now the world’s largest trade agreement between 15 Asia-Pacific countries – Chinese President Xi Jinping further expanded his ambitions on Friday, announcing that Beijing will seek to participate in the comprehensive and progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a trade agreement originally designed by 12 of China’s neighbors in response to Beijing.
While the United States helped negotiate the original agreement, Trump withdrew in one of his first acts as president in January 2017.
Some experts also call for an informal technology-focused club for democracies to control China’s efforts to use technology to stifle the flow of information and influence personal freedom.
For example, former Secretary of State Jared Cohen, now CEO of Jigsaw, a technology incubator started by Google, and Richard Fontaine, a former National Security Council official and leading think tank researcher, propose “uniting the techno-democracies” in what they call the T-12.
It would be a new intergovernmental organization built around the key G-7 economic partners in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, but also add India, Australia, South Korea, Sweden, Finland and Israel.
Another potential model is “Clean Network”, the unfolding campaign against Chinese tech giant Huawei; nearly 50 countries have agreed to participate so far, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the forum.
“You should not allow the Chinese Communist Party access to your telecommunications network,” he said.
The interest in greater technological cooperation is driven by a combination of Chinese censorship, intellectual property theft and espionage. And in 2020, China added $ 1 trillion in government technology spending to its five-year plan.
What drives fear is also the fact that Chinese companies are using artificial intelligence technologies faster than the United States and its allies.
“Because we have data protection rules, our artificial intelligence is falling behind,” Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia, told the forum. She called for wiser regulation to keep pace with Chinese advances in AI systems, “which can learn faster” due to the regime’s breach of privacy.
A number of other long-standing international organizations are also getting a new look.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for expanding the G-7 to include India, Australia and South Korea, an informal arrangement he can pursue as Britain takes over the G-7 presidency in January.
“You will need a certain level of new architecture,” said Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting firm, in a call for an expansion of existing partnerships.
He cited Japan’s interest in joining Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing alliance between the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
A new report released by the Republican-led Committee on Foreign Relations to the Senate also highlighted the need to restore traditional diplomatic relations between the United States and its European allies.
“Transatlantic security and prosperity require the United States and Europe to renew our commitment to each other and promise to use all our combined tools to succeed,” the report said, or risk “losing the basic principles of open society.”
Coons said in an interview that traditional and more innovative international events are needed to address Beijing.
“Institutions like ASEAN and the WTO and NATO and the UN all need a new look,” he said. “Many of them are a little squeaky, a little tired. But I think our first step is to resume a supportive and positive way and strengthen them and maintain them, at the same time we are considering whether they are all custom built for our present moment. ”
But convincing democracies to cut back on their economic and technological dependence on Beijing creates challenges.
“This is an ambition filled with obstacles from domestic interest groups,” acknowledges the new report unveiled at the Halifax Forum.
“It is not free to stand up to China,” Pompeo told participants. “There are costs.”
Speakers also warned against asking nations to explicitly choose side.
“Building greater flexibility as well as depth in the culture of alliance and partnership building in the 21st century obviously does not mean asking countries to make black and white choices, for example between Beijing and Washington on trade,” the Halifax report recommends.
Campbell, the head of the Australian Defense Forces, agreed. “This issue of elections is something that I believe, as far as possible, we should avoid making smaller countries, medium-sized countries and geographically neighboring countries feel that they do not have a choice,” he told the forum. . “They should always have a choice.”
There was still a sense of relief among the participants over the election that the American voters took this month.
The Coons described the Allied response to Biden’s victory as “uniform cheers” that the United States will regain its leading role in global engagement.
Gates, who also served as CIA director and deputy national security adviser under President George HW Bush, agreed that Biden’s election provides an opportunity.
“There are many countries now in Europe and elsewhere that are in a different palace from China than they were two or three years ago, not in the least because of the measures taken by Xi,” he said. he, citing China’s violence against Hong Kong and the detention of one million Uighur Muslims. “In a way, they have been helped by President Xi’s aggressive stance and his wolf warrior diplomacy.”
There is only one viable answer, Leon Panetta, another former defense minister and CIA chief, told the Halifax forum.
“What is it that China fears? It fears alliances, ”he said.
But even that will not be enough, warned Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of the Armed Forces and Foreign Relations Committees.
“We really need a more powerful democracy promotion project that will take advantage of the fact that there are democracies across the globe,” he said in an interview. “It is the ruling model itself that is under attack from authoritarians.”
Luiza Savage and Lara Seligman contributed to this report.