Giving cause for Chinese Communist Party celebration, the United Arab Emirates is suspending a $23 billion purchase of F-35 combat aircraft and MQ-9B drones from the United States.

Agreed in the Trump administration's closing days, this arms deal would bring big new revenue streams to both Lockheed Martin (which makes the F-35) and General Atomics (which makes the MQ-9). But as the Wall Street Journal reports, the UAE is now having second thoughts. Announcing the suspension, a UAE official said that "technical requirements, sovereign operational restrictions, and the cost/benefit analysis led to the reassessment."

The UAE's specific gripe is that the U.S. is demanding extensive safeguards to prevent Chinese People's Liberation Army intelligence officers from getting access to the F-35. U.S. concerns over China's prospective use of the UAE as a conduit to gather intelligence on the F-35 are not new. The UAE has strengthened its relations with China in recent years, happily ignoring the latter's genocide against Uyghur Muslims.

The evidence also suggests that French President Emmanuel Macron's scheming is in play here.

After all, it was only on Dec. 3 that Macron visited the UAE and announced an $18 billion French arms deal with the Sunni kingdom collective. Like the U.S. agreement, the French sale centers on strike fighter aircraft, 80 of Dassault's Rafale F-4, and would see the first deliveries made in 2027. In the context of the UAE's suspension of the F-35 purchase, it seems that Macron has won his revenge for the AUKUS submarine saga. AUKUS saw Australia abandon a massive purchase of French submarines in favor of developing nuclear submarines with the U.S. and the U.K.

What should the U.S. do in response?

First, show a little humility. The Rafale F-4 variants that the UAE will buy are versatile, capable aircraft. The F-35s, in contrast, are massively overpriced and overrated. This is particularly true as assessed by the aircraft's prospective combat utility against China.

Still, the Biden administration cannot afford to bend to the UAE's diktats here. The U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps would all use F-35s as the centerpiece of their air combat power in any war with China. In turn, the U.S. cannot risk the F-35's technology falling into Chinese hands. Absent sufficient safeguards, Chinese intelligence officers will use their privileged access to the UAE to test detection tactics against the F-35 and steal its technology. This would pose an intolerable threat to the survivability of U.S. aircrews during war and to the ability of U.S. forces to fight and win. To be fair to the UAE, it is not the only Middle Eastern ally that raises these China-related concerns. Israel is another.

Regardless, if the UAE cannot provide adequate commitments, as appears to be the case, the U.S. should cancel this deal regardless of its suspension action. Much more is at stake here than a question of lucrative trade.