India May Trump-gun Sino-Pak Bonhomie

Nikki Haley

Beijing is under internal pressure for not aligning with Islamabad on the matter of terrorism as it is making Indians hostile towards Chinese products in the Indian market

By Shankar Kumar

Had Hillary Clinton been elected as the US President, reams after reams of dossier could have been produced in New Delhi on her foreign policy towards the South Asian region, but in the case of President-elect Donald Trump, foreign experts feel, it is hard to predict what would be his foreign policy roadmap towards the region? 

During more than one-and-half-year long presidential campaign, Trump’s pronouncements were scrappy and at time jingoistic. However, judging from his remarks made during campaigns and after his victory, it appears he will differ from the Barack Obama administration on the foreign policy matter; there may not be as strong engagement between the US and the South Asian region as observed earlier. His stress, over restricting the US job flows into India and other Asian countries, shows that he will enforce stricter trade protectionism. In his book, ‘Time To Get Tough,’ Trump has already spoken about levying taxes on companies that outsource.

That way, he is likely to adopt an isolationist approach. Given that Trump’s team will be handicapped by experienced people to look after policy matter, in that situation first 100-day of the new administration will be keenly watched by diplomats and foreign experts. However, for New Delhi, there is nothing to expect big from the successor of the Obama administration except for the fact that a Republican government traditionally happens to be pro-India. But then also keep in mind that President Nixon was a Republican and he had sent a US Seventh Fleet into the Bay of Bengal to intimidate Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during the 1971 Bangladesh War. 

Nevertheless, if former presidential candidate   Mitt Romney who had lost to Obama in the 2012 election, becomes Secretary of State, a highly important governmental position in the US after the President, the Indo-US relations may have a mixed bag of success and failure.  Mitt Romney has a connection with South Asia in the form of his NGO, ‘Charity Vision’ which works for the treatment of blindness among poor people in 25 countries, including India. In 2015, he had made a nine-day trip to India. Thereby, his familiarity with India is above secret. 

To the happiness of Indians, the US President elect has picked up South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, born Nimrata Randhawa, as ambassador to the United Nations. “Governor Haley has a proven track record of bringing people together regardless of background or party affiliation to move critical policies forward for the betterment of her state and our country,” Trump said in a statement. A daughter of Sikh immigrants to the US, Nikki Haley is politically a green horn and ambassadorial post in the UN is considered to be highly challenging because she will have to defend her country’s position not only in  hotspots like Afghanistan and Syria, but also on the issue of the South China Sea. Other than this, with Nikki Haley being in the UN, India would find in her a perfect match to counter terrorism on the one hand and get support for the UN Security Council expansion on the other hand.

Besides Nikki Haley, another pro-India politician and a follower of Hindu religion, Tulsi Gabbard is under the consideration of the Trump administration for a Cabinet position. Therefore, with possible induction of these pro-India politicians on the cards, New Delhi may not find it difficult to have the same warm and easy-going engagement with the US that it witnessed in the last two years of the Obama administration where issues related to defense, nuclear and climate change received a significant push. It is on the issue of terrorism, India is happy to see that Trump has no love lost for Pakistan. During election campaign he made a terse comment against Pakistan, terming it as “the most dangerous country in the world today.” 

In the same breath he had also said that “the only country that can check Pakistan is India.” As New Delhi is already aggressively campaigning against Pakistan for using terrorists as proxies to attack India and its interests, there is a feeling that Trump backed by Republican dominated House of Representatives and Senate may support India in being tougher against Pakistan for nurturing terrorism.  

This is averred by those who have closely watched Trump. They say that the 45th President of America, despite being in-experienced, may play a hardball against Pakistan while demanding tangible results in curbing terrorists’ activities. If that happens then Pakistan, already facing diplomatic isolation in the South Asian Region, may find itself further pushed to the corner. China, an all-weather friend of Pakistan, refused to offer its shoulder to Islamabad for comfort after it sent its envoy to Beijing in the wake of India-led surgical strikes on terrorist camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir on September 29. However, apparently at Pakistan’s bidding, China extended technical hold on India-led proposal in the United Nations Security Council to ban Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Azhar Masood, an accused in the Pathankot terrorist attack and the 2001 Parliament attack. 

But China is now under pressure from some of its own political leaders and diplomats as they don’t want Beijing to align with Pakistan on the issue of terrorism. This afterthought, sources say, was spelt out by them in the wake of boycott of Chinese goods by Indians during the just concluded festival of lights. Though there is no official data to suggest as to how much China’s export suffered with this boycott, but understanding is that anti-China sentiment in India resulted in a 30-40 percent decline in the sale of Chinese goods during Deepawali. In the face of this, with Trump at the hot seat in the US, the overarching feeling in South Block is that the South Asian region may not be the same. The US President-elect’s view he expressed in an interview with Fox News in May that he would favour keeping nearly 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan “because it is adjacent and right next to Pakistan which has nuclear weapons,” is seen by Indian officials as a positive one. He also pitched high against China, but then in the context of trade. 

In the course of campaigning he suggested putting a high tariff on goods made in China. As Republicans are in majority in the Congress, Trump may not find problem in imposing a high tariff against Chinese goods, which he indicated, could be something like 45 percent. However, he has not been heard on the South China Sea, a contentious issue which has put America and China on a collision course. Throughout Obama’s Presidency, the US exercised its military power in the region, contributing to rise in tension between America and China.  But instead of nervousness, say sources, a sense of ease pervades among Chinese authorities following the election of the 70-year-old reality tycoon as the next President of the US. It is said that Chinese could have felt rattled if Hillary would have won the Presidential election. The former Secretary of State, known for her tough stand against China for its authoritarian rule, record on human rights and system of censorship, had sought for more US intervention in the disputed South China Sea. She had also raised accusing finger against China for hacking American computers and stealing commercial data and government information. 

Therefore, her defeat is considered to have given Chinese much needed relief. However, officials say it is too early to comment on American strategy post the Obama regime. Trump’s comment that he wants a freeze on new green cards and restrict the H-1B visa programme to make it tougher for US firms to hire talents from India and other countries of the world,  is being viewed with trepidation in New Delhi.  Yet proof of the pudding is in the eating. India would understand him only when he sets the ball rolling from January 20 onward. For New Delhi, however, world could have been a bit different had Hillary won the election.