Wednesday, Dec 07, 2022

Trump Win Could Be A Gamechanger For Asia

Trump Win Could Be A Gamechanger For Asia

Republican hardline approach on Pakistan and China may be pleasing to India but government should not draw simplistic conclusions on how President Trump may behave

File-AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic Hillary Clinton met for the second US presidential debate, which even by the standards of this election was quite terrible.

Both candidates spent much of the time not debating substantial issues but busy clarifying and clearing their names of various allegations.

Following the weekend release of a 2005 videotape where Trump was seen making lewd comments about women, his chances of winning the presidency has taken a serious hit.

Many commentators are willing to write to him off totally. More than a dozen Republican leaders withdrew their endorsements and have asked Trump to withdraw his candidature to make way for his vice presidential candidate, Mike Pence. Despite the crisis, Trump refused to acknowledge his difficulties and on the contrary, he said, “The support I’m getting is unbelievable, because Hillary Clinton is a horribly flawed candidate.” Further, he added, there is “zero chance I’ll quit.”

Meanwhile, Wikileaks released fresh documents on Friday that were damaging to Clinton.

The fresh releases related to Clinton’s private speeches to the Wall Street where she was seen a lot more comfortable with “unfettered international trade and praised a budget-balancing plan that would have required cuts to Social Security.”

The Clinton team, however, did not offer any comment on the veracity of these reports. In fact, if these revelations had come out during the primary, her rival Bernie Sanders would have possibly become the democratic nominee.

So how do the new revelations impact the candidates? Clearly, Clinton has come under some serious flak but the vulgarity and repulsiveness associated with the Trump video has made a lot more voters shudder.

Even his own running mate Mike Pence was harsh in criticizing him. Having said that, Trump managed to salvage the situation to some extent at the second presidential debate. After the first few minutes’ attention on his eleven-year-old videotape, he was able to divert the debate to everything including Clinton’s email conundrum, ISIS, Russia, the Libya fiasco, and Bill Clinton’s infidelities and impeachment.

Nevertheless, there is a sense that the damage was already done. On the other hand, others argue that his performance on Sunday night made it difficult for the GOP to abandon him totally in the face of him attacking Clinton for her lies and calling for her imprisonment.

While both the candidates were somewhat mellowed down due to their respective revelations and the possible fallout, Trump’s performance on Sunday night did not matter that much to tilt the scale in his favour. It must be added that Clinton was already maintaining a lead over Trump and that gap seems to be widening in the final weeks of the race to the White House.

The elections are only a few weeks away but it has become almost impossible to predict, certainly not in this season of uncertainties. The recent experiences of poor polling in cases such as Brexit and Columbian FARC peace deal referendum say a lot about how poor polling predictions have been.

All US elections are important for the rest of the world. Clinton having been the Secretary of State during the first term of the Obama Administration is a relatively known entity in the foreign policy realm but Trump is an unknown.

Going by his foreign policy speeches during the campaign, Trump does not think highly of Asian countries, though India appeared to have figured somewhat favourably. The Republican manifesto said, for instance, “the dynamism of its [Indian] people and the endurance of their democratic institutions are earning their country a position of leadership not only in Asia but throughout the world.”

Even in a bilateral context, he underlined the role of India as a “geopolitical ally and a strategic trade partner.”

In contrast, Trump referred to Pakistan in the context of nuclear security and war on terrorism. Trump characterized China also negatively emphasizing Beijing’s policy in the area of currency manipulation and intellectual property rights. Further the Republican manifesto noted China’s “threats of intimidation” and belligerent posturing in South China Sea in addition to “‘parading their new missile 'the Guam Killer’.”

Continuing cultural genocide in Xinjiang and Tibet also found prominent reporting in the Republican platform.

The Republican hardline approach on Pakistan and China may be particularly pleasing to the Indian leadership but India should not draw such simplistic conclusions on how a President Trump may pursue relations with India.

The US-India relations are too broad to be approached from a bilateral perspective alone. The relationship has to be placed in the larger Asian strategic context to draw more nuanced conclusions of what a Trump presidency may mean for India.

India might stand to benefit if it examined how Trump may deal with the US allies in Asia Pacific, for instance.

Japan, one of the major allies, did not figure in any detail in the party manifesto although during the campaign, Trump mentioned that it may not be a bad idea if Japan went nuclear.

He also said that Tokyo will have to shell out more money if the US troops were needed to be stationed in Japan. More importantly, he questioned the very terms of the US security alliance with Japan to say that it was unfair because the US is obliged to defend Tokyo if Japan is attacked but not the other way around.

There have always been anxieties in Japan about the credibility of the US as a security guarantor and Trump’s comments could possibly accentuate some of these worries and possibly even push Tokyo to bear much of the security burden on their own.

While it may not be a bad idea to see a nuclear Japan with proactive security approach, it could unleash new dynamics in the region, which India will need to factor in. Similarly, the US approach towards Russia will remain another factor that could potentially impinge on larger Asian security layout as well as India’s own security calculations.

A Hillary presidency could throw up a different set of issues that India needs to be mindful of. Democrats have generally approached China from an economic and trade perspective and accordingly successive democratic administrations have approached China as a strategic partner. Such an approach has generated certain discomfort in countries like India and Japan.

Obama Administration started with such a view although Obama has had to modify his China policy in the last few years to respond to a more aggressive China. Irrespective of who wins the Presidency, America’s Asia policy is set for big changes.

(Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan is Senior Fellow and Head, Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi).