A former diplomat
Trump’s erratic and rude behaviour has not just shocked his allies and nations across the world but also converted international governance into a theatrical farce.
New Delhi has been at the receiving end of Trump's economic policies of "America first." Trump's duties on imports of aluminium and steel have resulted in India taking up the issue with the WTO and imposing reciprocal trade restrictions on US exports. India's trade surplus with the US in 2017-18 was around $21 billion, barely 5 per cent of the trade surplus of China. But, the Trump administration would evidently like to end GSP trade preferences, accorded to India since 1974, together with demands that India ends restrictions on imports of American dairy products.
While Trump is proposing tariffs on some $50 billion of Chinese exports, he also supports special treatment for China, while heaping praise on President Xi Jinping. He intervened to reverse a US Congressional ban on ZTE, China's manufacturer of Android phones, which accepted that it had violated sanctions, by exports to Iran and North Korea. The US Commerce Department banned US companies from exporting components essential for ZTE's survival and brought the company to its knees. Trump, however, stepped in, tweeting that he would work with Xi, to reverse the ban.
With high-level meetings under way, India should respond to Trump's policies by being judicious in extending support, while seeking a quid pro quo for its actions, which support US policies. Any significant purchase of defence equipment, or civilian transport aircraft should be linked to specific political, economic and security gestures from Washington, while ensuring that US actions do not undermine the India-Russia defence relationship.
We need to work with Russia and China so that Washington does not take us for granted. Defence Secretary Mattis and Secretary of State Pompeo appear to have a realistic understanding of India's policies, potential and imperatives.
We need to keep a close watch on US policies on Afghanistan, where an effort appears under way to mainstream the Taliban. This should not lead to politically equating the Taliban with the legitimate Afghan Government.
The annual summit meetings of the G7 grouping are marked by camaraderie. They make a significant contribution to issues of global governance, ranging from environment, trade and investment, to peace, stability and security. Trump shook this record by his behaviour during and after the G7 summit in Vancouver earlier this month. The summit was marked by simmering tensions on trade relations, with the US unilaterally imposing additional tariffs on imports of steel and aluminium, from its G7 partners. Differences on this issue led to Trump disowning the Summit Declaration he had signed and calling Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau: "Dishonest and Weak." Outraged European leaders joined ranks, taking exception to Trump's comments, while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, already shaken by Trump's U-turns on China and North Korea, maintained a silence.
He revoked US participation in the "Trans-Pacific Partnership", which sought to integrate the economies of the Asia-Pacific, ranging from Canada and the US to Japan, South Korea and ASEAN markets. China, now pushing for a "Comprehensive Economic Cooperation" agreement with ASEAN and its dialogue partners like India, Japan and Australia, will only increase its economic domination of the Indo-Pacific, by these American actions.
Other destabilising Trump policies include his determination to scuttle the North American Free Trade Agreement, his ban on travel to the US by people from six Muslim countries, his imposition of nuclear sanctions on Iran and his insulting labelling of Haiti and countries in Africa as "shithole countries," which provoked formal protests by six African countries.
Trump has created new tensions by recognising the whole Jerusalem as part of Israel, ignoring the global consensus that East Jerusalem would be under Palestinian control in any peace settlement in West Asia.
Trump's impetuously ignored the security concerns of key allies South Korea and Japan and went ahead with a summit meeting in Singapore, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom he had earlier spoken of in derogatory terms. Trump expressed his admiration for the North Korean leader and cancelled longstanding military exercises with South Korea, thereby implicitly accepting the assurances of the North Korean leader that he would end his country's nuclear weapons programme. These actions were ill advised, naïve and undermined the trust that South Korea and Japan had reposed in the US. There is little prospect of North Korea discarding its nuclear arsenal anytime soon. Moreover, one wonders if Shinzo Abe can afford to remain a mere spectator, with China and North Korea possessing missile and nuclear arsenals, with US acquiescence.
Interacting with well-informed journalists and analysts in the US during a stay at the US west coast, where people voted massively against Trump, one feels that a larger section of people now appear more indulgent towards religious bigotry and racism. There is appreciation of the fact that not only did Trump receive nearly 63 million votes in the presidential elections, but his economic policies, particularly on tax relief, have been accompanied by reduced unemployment, with a booming stock market. Acceptance and support, particularly amongst small-town white Americans, of Trump's immigration policies, is evident. A large number of Americans, especially in the mid-west and south, feel that far too much of their national resources has been spent on involvement beyond the country's borders and that there is, therefore, merit in Trump's slogan of "America First". Aspirants for quick "green cards" and those with unrealistic expectations of continuing American "liberalism," would be well advised to bear this in mind.
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