America’s allies, particularly those in Asia, have not before been put under so much pressure to lay their allegiances on the line. President Donald Trump and his administration have ratcheted-up tensions with China in recent weeks, moving ever-closer to disengagement. The looming United States presidential election is behind the momentum, but driving the rivalry is long-growing concern in Washington that the nation is losing its superiority to Beijing. Many countries need both, some more than others, creating a dilemma that requires strategic caution, not rash decision-making. Although Trump’s “America First” policy has been a trademark of his presidency with China being at the heart of a blame game for perceived job losses and eroded advantages, the approach has lacked coherence. With Covid-19 ravaging the US economy and dimming the president’s chances of besting Democratic Party challenger Joe Biden in November’s polls, the administration has dramatically upped the ante. Striving to put forward a consistent position, top officials – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defence Secretary Mark Esper and national security adviser Robert O’Brien among them – have spoken forcefully of America’s need to decouple from China and urged allies to follow suit. After trade and technology measures, they have forced the closure of the Chinese consulate-general in Houston, imposed sanctions on Communist Party dignitaries, restricted media outlets, scientists, academics and students, and revoked Hong Kong’s special status. China says countries should not have to pick sides in rivalry with US Foreign policy is often heightened in prominence during an American presidential election. But recent actions have pushed the crisis with Beijing to dangerous new levels. Allies have been told to choose sides, putting many in a quandary. The vast majority have a stronger trade relationship with China than the US and being told to sever those links in the name of solidarity makes no sense. Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand, members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance with the US, have already borne the brunt of such pressure through Trump’s efforts to have them ban equipment from the Chinese tech leader Huawei from their 5G telecommunications networks. As the gear is better than competitors, paying heed is likely to put them at a disadvantage. Along with Japan, South Korea and other Asian allies, they are only too aware that China is important to any post-pandemic recovery. Disengagement, containment and confrontation as advocated by hardliners in the Trump administration will harm the US, not benefit it. The same holds even truer for allies which also need China for growth and development and to ensure globalisation and international cooperation. There is all to lose by signing on to Trump’s agenda.