Trump may not be all that bad for India

His primary target is not New Delhi, though there would be spill over effect of 'bringing jobs back home' on us too.

 |  4-minute read |   10-11-2016
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Now that Donald Trump has won the US presidential elections against all odds, we have to carefully assess its implications for us.

The positions he took on various political and economic issues during the election campaign may indicate his general approach to highly complex issues but cannot be taken as policy.

That will get crystallised in the months ahead. In the US system, even the formation of the new government takes an extraordinary long time.

Little is known about Trump's advisers; some believe he really listens to no one and decides himself.

It will be interesting to see who he nominates in key positions; they will not obviously be from the personalities one is familiar with.

It will take us time to establish relationships with the new team, and so for a while the current dynamism of India-US ties should slow down.

Protectionism

In several areas the contours of his thinking as expressed during the election campaign could be considered as either positive for us or less problematic than what one might think.

There is concern that he is protectionist in his economic thinking. His focus on job losses is in the manufacturing sector targets China and Mexico primarily.

It is in the services sector that India is accused of job losses. While Trump has made some comments on H-1B visas and call centres, his primary target is not India, though there would be spill over effect of "bringing jobs back home" on us too.

Trump wants to renegotiate NAFTA and is of the view that the trade agreements that the US has signed have damaged the US economy and benefited others.

This position is not unhelpful to us as we are being kept out of the trade agreements the Obama administration was pushing, and, in any case, the Indian economy is not ready for these "high standards" agreements.

Trump's position may give us more time to prepare our economy for such agreements by carrying out more reforms.

If China comes under pressure because of Trump's protectionist thinking, and that at a time when the Chinese economy is slowing down, this may be helpful geopolitically to us.

However, Trump is also against the US pivot to Asia. If he moves away from it, that would open more space for China to assert itself geopolitically in the western Pacific, expand its power there and be in a position to move into the Indian Ocean more quickly.

With Obama we had forged a joint strategic vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.

This vision had at its centre the concerns about the rise of China in view of its increased muscle-flexing.

If Trump discards the pivot as an unnecessary drain on US resources, this joint India-US vision will lose sense.

Reset

US-Russia relations have deteriorated sharply under Obama. Clinton's antagonism towards Russia had deepened further during the election campaign because of allegations of his interference in the elections in Trump's favour.

Trump's attitude towards Russia is much more sensible than that of Obama.

His willingness to work with Russia in Syria and against the Islamic State, and, generally find a modus vivendi on Ukraine and Crimea, has indirect geopolitical benefits for us as improved India-US ties will become less of a negative factor in Russian thinking about ties with India and may slow down Russia's embrace of China.

Obligations

Trump's robust statements on the Islamic threat to the US and on extremism and terrorism in general were essentially in the context of the threat from these forces to homeland America.

He has made some negative comments about Pakistan. This concern of his can be helpful in forging stronger understandings with the US on India's position on terrorism, including from Pakistan.

Trump has not taken any particular position on Afghanistan, but given his general position on US shedding its burden on defending others and pressuring them to do more for their own defence, and his focus on rebuilding US strength depleted by foreign adventures, the US commitment to Afghanistan could weaken further.

On nuclear issues, Trump has made statements that have caused concern to the non-proliferation lobby, as, for example, entertaining the idea of Japan going nuclear to defend itself against the Chinese threat.

On the US-Iran nuclear deal he has not said anything of note and so the likelihood of the Republicans seeking to sabotage the deal after the elections can be set aside.

On non-proliferation issues, therefore, we may be less troubled by existing lobbies in the US in the democratic camp that continue to focus negatively on India.

It is ironic though that Trump wants to make America great by withdrawing unto itself, whereas the US pre-eminence can only be maintained by asserting its strength globally.

If the US under Trump wants to reduce its own international obligations that agenda of boosting India's global power would have to be revised.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Also read - What it feels like to wake up in an America where Trump is President

Writer

Kanwal Sibal Kanwal Sibal

Former Foreign Secretary

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