China policy will be key to India’s interests

The election of Donald Trump as U.S. President could be positive news for India on a bilateral level, but it is his administration’s China policy that will be key to India’s interests, say foreign policy watchers here.

“The positive thing is there is a long-standing bipartisan consensus on good relations and strengthening strategic partnership with India,” said former Chairperson of the National Security Advisory Board Shyam Saran, adding that there had been little “negativity” between the Indian government and the Trump campaign.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first world leaders to tweet his greetings to the U.S. President-elect shortly after he made his victory speech, and Mr. Trump famously said “I love Hindu,” referring to Indians at a campaign rally last month.

In contrast to India ties, Mr. Trump has made it clear that he sees Pakistan’s “semi-unstable” state, radical Islamists and nuclear weapons as a major problem. In April this year, at a townhall meeting in Indianapolis, Mr. Trump had said: “The problem with Pakistan, where they have nuclear weapons, is a real problem.”

“At the same time, if you look at India and some of the others, maybe they’ll be helping us out, because we’re going to look at it,” he added, indicating a triangular relationship between the three countries, that New Delhi has so far sought to avoid.

Former Ambassador to Washington Meera Shankar said the one problem between the two countries could erupt over H1B visas and immigration. “Trump has projected a protectionist approach to trade and investment including suggesting he will impose penalties on companies which transfer jobs overseas either through outsourcing or manufacturing jobs,” Ms. Shankar told The Hindu, cautioning that, “If this is implemented it could have an impact on India’s IT industry and the Make in India programme.”

However, some suggest that India may be more affected by Mr. Trump’s foreign policy shifts on China, Russia and West Asia.

‘If Trump shifts Asia policy, China’s power will grow’

“The U.S.-China relationship will have the most decisive bearing on geopolitics,” saidMr. Saran, who previously served in Beijing.

In his vision statement on trade policies, Mr. Trump had said he would withdraw from the yet-to-be ratified Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) with Asian countries, and would direct the U.S. Treasury to label China a “currency manipulator”, even accusing Chinese policies of “raping” the U.S. on several occasions.

Mr. Saran said the comments had the potential of souring relations between them, and proving better news for India which is a market competitor to China.

At the same time, Mr. Trump’s startling statement that the “U.S. cannot be the policeman of the world”, made at the first Presidential debate in September 2016, could spell an end to President Obama’s Pivot to Asia, which included involving India in joint operations to ring-fence China in the South China Sea.

“A retreat from Asia-Pacific will create a space for China to assert its dominance in the region, and that is something that could be worrisome for India as all the countries in the region,” said Mr. Saran.

Another fallout of that retreat would be U.S. reluctance to counter-balance China’s support to Pakistan on nuclear and other issues.

Finally, Mr. Trump’s position on U.S. allies in West Asia and Europe may be more in line with India’s on interventionist policies.

His vision statement document said he would “end the current strategy of nation-building and regime change,” for example, indicating he would not follow those U.S. policies in Libya and Iraq that India had long opposed.

Equally, the chance of good ties with Russian President Putin, whom Mr. Trump had praised, and the possible lifting of sanctions against Moscow would be positive for India, said diplomats, and would also mean a more united fight against the Islamic State in Syria.

Mr. Trump had taken a strong position on scrapping the P5+1-Iran nuclear deal, they added, which had the possibility of reversing any benefits of the Russia policy.

“Some of his stated foreign policy goals are contradictory at present,” explained Mr. Saran. “Much will depend on which ones he chooses to highlight during his tenure.”

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 11:08:47 AM |

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