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    OpinionsWhy Trump has left China worried and how it concerns India

    Why Trump has left China worried and how it concerns India


    Why Trump has left China worried and how it concerns

    Ananth Krishnan

    Dealing with the incoming administration of the unpredictable United States President-elect Donald Trump, is a question now consuming diplomats across the world's capitals. This is perhaps all the more the case in China, which has been left rattled this past week by Trump's hard talk on Taiwan, trade and the South China Sea.

    An entirely new US approach to China under the Trump administration, hinted at in recent days by Trump and his advisers, will have huge ramifications for New Delhi.

    First, Trump upended nearly 37 years of US diplomatic protocol by speaking on the phone with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. The last US president or president-elect to speak with a Taiwanese leader was Jimmy Carter.

    Part of the US normalisation of ties with China was an implicit recognition of “One China” – a policy that India and all major countries follow – and a ceasing of diplomatic relations with Taiwan. China regards Taiwan as a runaway province and goes to great lengths to prevent any international recognition of the island.

    Which was why Trump's move left insiders in Beijing stunned. And Trump didn't stop with the Taiwan call.

    After he was criticised by the American media for the call, he robustly defended it on Twitter, and went on to slam China for manipulating its currency and militarising the South China Sea.

    Huang Jing, a leading expert on China's foreign policy at the University of Singapore who often interacts with top decision-makers in Beijing, told Mail Today, “We have a president-elect who is very immature on international affairs, and is promoting Twitter diplomacy without much expertise in what he's doing.”

    The irony is many in Beijing had initially welcomed Trump's rise because of his apparent fondness for Russia, perceptions of him as pragmatic and transactional – Chinese translations of The of the Deal are widely available – and the general dislike for the “more ideological” Hillary Clinton.

    How will China respond to the President-elect? “It would be best to stay put, be watchful and see what he will do once he is in the White House in January,” said Huang.

    “At the same time, prepare for radical change. I don't believe Trump, no matter how unpredictable, can stand up to institutions and diplomatic norms established for decades. But if one president manages to do so, then we are all doomed.”

    While it is perhaps too soon to gauge the ramifications of Trump's early moves as president-elect, what's less clear is whether he has himself thought through the possible fall-out of his robust new approach with China. The most immediate likely consequence is an attempt by Beijing to punish or pressure Taipei, rather than confront Washington.

    China is likely to test whether he will follow words with action. But when Trump has spoken of curtailing US misadventures abroad, how far would he be willing to go?

    “The Chinese mainland is capable of punishing (Taiwan's) administration for any moves that crosses the red line, and it should use its power without hesitation,” said an editorial in the widely-read Party-run tabloid, Global Times. “It is inappropriate to target Trump since he is still a president-elect. China can punish the Tsai administration as a way to convey a message to Trump.”

    What is increasingly apparent is that Trump's moves were not, as some media first suggested, a diplomatic faux pas borne out of ignorance, but more likely a long-planned manoeuvre to signal a new approach to Beijing.

    In a recent article for Foreign Policy, Trump adviser Peter Navarro, a professor at the University of California Irvine, lambasted the previous US government for reducing arms sales and shunning the interests of Taiwan, a “beacon of democracy”.

    He also slammed the Obama administration's “pivot” to Asia, which spoke of challenging China but did little to stop Beijing's reclamation of islands and building of infrastructure on the South China Sea, describing it as “talking loudly but carrying a small stick”.

    He said Trump will rebuild the Navy, and called for deeper ties with “US partners like Japan, South Korea, India, and even Myanmar and Vietnam” who “view Beijing as a bully and potential aggressor that must be balanced against.”

    This could certainly open new opportunities for India. Contrasting this robust security posture is Trump's impulse to withdraw from the region economically, dealing a death-blow to the 12-member Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal that excludes China.

    Douglas Paal, vice-president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, notes that a “role reversal” is taking place where China is now leading the push for both regional trade deals and climate agreement.

    Already, Chinese officials have said they will push the long-drawn-out negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which involves the ten Asean countries plus their six partners, including China, Japan and India.

    India's big concern is whether the deal will also open up markets for its services and skilled workers, beyond just goods. If the deal is given fresh momentum with the expected decline of the TPP, India will have to take a call sooner rather than later.

    Cao Heping, director of the Department of Developmental at Peking University, suggested to Bloomberg that the new-found urgency in Beijing could see it “finish the deal with India as an observer”.

    “We don't have to wait for India,” he said. “India can choose to join after the benefits are borne out in a couple of years.”

    The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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