Does ‘Five Eyes’ countries’ unity on Hong Kong impact Israel, Middle East? – The Five Eyes network is a post-WWII intelligence sharing framework composed of the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.


Buildings are seen above Hong Kong and Chinese flags, as pro-China supporters celebration after China’s parliament passes national security law for Hong Kong, in Hong Kong, China

New Zealand has suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong in the wake of a new law China has enacted in the region.
The law has caused Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom to suspend treaties and become part of the overall US-China dispute that is roiling the world.

The suspension is important because it shows that the “Five Eyes” countries, a group of English-speaking nations whose roots are in British colonial-era ties, still act in unity.

The Five Eyes (FVEY) network is ostensibly an intelligence sharing framework for countries and includes the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK. It is called “Five Eyes” because certain intelligence could be seen only by the “eyes” of these five participating nations.

FVEY has its roots in the Atlantic Charter of the Second World War period. These are all powerful English-speaking democracies with common histories. Although the US is a bit of an outsider, having gained independence earlier than the rest and being the most powerful of the group since 1945, the intelligence sharing assets of these countries naturally blend together over a common language and  set of values.

Over the years, members of this nominal alliance system have collaborated on various issues, including being tasked with work in Vietnam during the long conflict there. British intelligence, based out of Hong Kong, was a watchtower  of sorts, for collecting intelligence on both Communist China and North Vietnam.

Since the global war on terror began, this group of countries has worked more closely on various intelligence sharing issues, which have gained importance because of the global network of extremist organizations including al-Qaeda and ISIS, which threaten the network’s members and allies.

China knows the stakes. In June, several articles indicated Beijing’s concern about the unity of the Five Eyes. China knows that since 2018 the Five Eyes have been working more closely on confronting it in the intelligence realm, and there has been talk of this being a kind of “new Cold War.” The Financial Times said the US was looking to this alliance to build a coalition against China in June.
What is interesting about the Hong Kong extradition suspensions is that the method of coordination behind them is not clear, but it is not a coincidence that it is these countries that have suspended extraditions.

They have done so as a group, which is linked to their larger alliance. In a world where the UN, NATO, EU and other important institutions that grew out of the Second World War – and are linked to the global world order established in the wake of that war – are all being tested, this alliance has remained. This is important because of rising challenges to the Western states and to democracies by authoritarian regimes. It has important ramifications for the Middle East as well.

All the countries in the Five Eyes are key players in the Middle East in some way or another. Historically, the UK and then the US have been the major players in the region. The UK was a colonial power that controlled Mandate Palestine, Jordan, the Gulf, Iraq and Egypt; the US built up Cold War alliances and the Baghdad Pact of 1955.

Australia and Canada both have increasingly warm relations with Israel. New Zealand, more critical of Israel, plays less of a role in the region.

Overall these countries also tend to contribute to other structures, such as helping to secure maritime issues in the Gulf or joining the Coalition against ISIS. There are questions about the role of Australia’s several hundred troops that were in Iraq, and the role of British forces there as well. But what is important is the overall context of the way historical ties keep the UK, US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand on the same page over certain issues, during a time of rising global chaos, is important.

China passed its new national security law for Hong Kong on June 29. It was rolled out after unrest last year in China’s “special administrative region” and during the COVID-19 crisis.

Canada suspended extradition on July 3, Australia suspended it on July 9, the US prepared to suspend extradition on July 13, the UK suspended extradition on July 20 and New Zealand did it on July 28. This clearly indicates a cooperative effort among these countries to evaluate their relations not only with Hong Kong but also regarding their overall concern about China’s growing role.

The new US national defense strategy sees China as a major new-peer threat, along with Russia. It wants to challenge China at sea and over some disputed islands. On July 13, Washington called Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea illegal.

The US has closed a Chinese consulate in Houston; sanctioned Chinese officials on July 9 over allegations of abuse of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang; and added 11 Chinese companies to be sanctioned on July 20. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the point man on pressuring China, praised the UK for reversing a decision to allow Chinese telecom giant Huawei into the UK’s 5G network on July 14.

In addition, the US has upped pressure on Israel regarding ties to China over a port deal and desalination project, which illustrates how these moves are connected. America wants to mobilize some countries to take on China. However, the US has a diminishing group of allies.

Turkey, although a partner of NATO, has been working more closely with Russia, China and Iran. Turkey’s state broadcaster TRT published an article claiming that an Iran-China deal has been unfairly critiqued by the US. This means that Ankara likely wants such a deal as part of Turkey playing a role in any Chinese Belt and Road policy that aims to link the Middle East to Beijing.

The US – despite the Five Eyes success on Hong Kong, which was a relatively easy agreement among the allies – is on the back foot against China everywhere else. This US administration has shifted focus away from Africa as China made inroads there and is also making inroads in South America.

China has offered Mexico a $1 billion loan to Latin America and Caribbean states relating to COVID-19 vaccines, something the US won’t match. In addition, Beijing is selling drones to US allies in the Middle East, something that has annoyed the Trump administration so much that it wants to redraw the rules on its own armed drone exports.

In this context, the unity on Hong Kong could be seen as empowering a smaller group of Western states to work more closely with the US on China issues.

This more narrow US approach, unlike the era of George H.W Bush’s “New World Order” of 1991, may be the future of US policy.

This has ramifications for the Middle East because it heralds a more tailored US approach here as well. It may also be that Hong Kong is one issue where these states had unity because of the UK’s historical role there – but beyond this, there will be less multilateralism, because the current US administration eschews multilateral approaches.

Israel and the larger Middle East will pay close attention to this balance of power and what comes next with regard to both the Five Eyes nations and US-China tensions and their impact.