Announcing nearly $13 billion in new business deals, British Prime Minister Theresa May is enjoying her ongoing visit to China.
"I’m very pleased to be able to be here in China, to take further forward the global strategic partnership that we have established," May said while meeting with President Xi Jinping.
In addition to the new deals, the Chinese and British governments will now discuss a post-Brexit trading relationship.
Still, for the U.S., this U.K.-Chinese "global strategic partnership" love-in represents an increasingly concerning situation. It speaks to a British effort to win Chinese favor by whatever means necessary. And it's not just at the political level. As Britain's Army chief, Nick Carter, delivered his tactical vision last week, one nation was absent from his threat considerations.
Noticing the absence, journalist Robert Fox asked the general why he hadn't included Beijing in his list of challenges. Carter's response was quite astonishing. "I don't necessarily think, Robert, that we regard China as a clear and present threat at the moment."
Contrast that with what Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis' national defense strategy statement said just three days prior. There, Mattis described China as a "revisionist" power and a preeminent threat in its efforts to gain "veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic, and security decisions." Mattis was unambigiously referencing China's imperial island-construction campaign in the South and East China seas.
Yet, the U.K.-U.S. divergence isn't just in terms of threat assessments; it's functional. The British armed forces have been reluctant to join U.S. forces in actions that might upset China such as the U.S. Navy's freedom of navigation patrols through the China seas.
But if you're confused as to why Britain is so increasingly deferential to Beijing, you only need to count the money.
More specifically, Britain's desperation to access Chinese investments that will allow its economy to flourish in the post-Brexit environment. Actively recruiting former British ministers, now to include May's predecessor David Cameron, the Chinese have cultivated the British establishment into their corner. And for the Chinese, the quid pro quo is quite clear.
Britain gets preferential economic treatment, and China gets the acquiescence of America's closest ally to Chinese foreign and domestic policy.
Cracking down on Hong Kong protesters? Militarizing the Pacific? Threatening India's borders? Jeopardizing Taiwan's security? Engaging in aggressive cyber-espionage? The British stay silent, and the world watches.
In turn, this encourages other U.S. allies to copy the British approach and thus weakens U.S. influence.
There's a heavy cost to all this. Ultimately, what China is doing is not simply buying influence but fundamentally reshaping the fabric of international order. And at present, the U.S., India, Australia, and Japan are standing the watch alone.