US-led Western sanctions continue to hurt Chinese exports. Photo: Asia Times files / iStock

In 2003, when the French government opposed the US 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 members of Congress were once again munching French fries with their burgers.

In some years since then, 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 United States 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 US deal with Australia and the United Kingdom that led to the cancellation of a US$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, that the tiff between the US and France will fade away. The creation of the pact between the US, 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 United States 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 US 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 then-president Donald Trump withdrew the US from it, was renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP.

About 100 members of the State Enterprises Workers’ Relations Confederation rally in Bangkok, Thailand, on July 14, 2020, to voice their opposition to Thailand entering the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. They believed that doing so would harm the agriculture industry. Photo: AFP / Chanat Katanyu / Bangkok Post

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

For years Europe has tried to buddy-buddy the US without getting too deeply involved when the US takes on Russia or China. AUKUS challenges the EU once again to choose between the US 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 added: “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 United States 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 US did. The Europeans will likely return the favor by not joining the US in standing up to China.

How much this divergence will worsen the US-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 US 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 US exported. And while the US has a deficit with the EU in goods traded, “sales by US companies’ European subsidiaries exceed European companies’ affiliate sales in the US 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 US-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 US and has numerous tariff and non-tariff barriers to US ag products, but it has been reluctant to include agriculture in US-EU trade talks.

That doesn’t seem likely to change. To some extent – although probably not to the point of renaming food products – AUKUS will strain US-EU relations. For America’s farmers and ranchers, those relations have been strained for some time.

Former longtime Wall Street Journal Asia correspondent and editor Urban Lehner is editor emeritus of DTN/The Progressive Farmer. This article, originally published October 1 by that news organization and now republished by Asia Times with permission, is © Copyright 2021 DTN/The Progressive Farmer. All rights reserved.