US Elections: Are Indian foreign policy pundits missing the bigger picture?

In Politics

India has reached a stage where there exists a bipartisan agreement in the US for a strong bilateral strategic partnership with India. Nevertheless, foreign policy dynamics are much more complex and it will be naïve for India to take comfort in these statements alone.

By Dr Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan 

The US elections are less than two months away and the campaign is reaching its pinnacle. Going by some polls, Republican candidate Donald Trump may enjoy a small lead over the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in some of the swing states. With the numbers running neck to neck within the possible margin of error, the only thing that can be predicted is that it will be a tight race.

Even as we are close to the election, little is known about the foreign policy positions of the two candidates. Hillary Clinton, having been the Secretary of State during the first term of the Obama administration, is a relatively known entity on foreign policy. Trump’s views are a lot less known and therefore it is important to analyse what his foreign policy might look like.

Recently, Newsweek magazine did a story on how Trump’s business dealings in foreign countries could upset US national security. The story is clearly to take a dig at Trump who has made a big issue of the Clinton Foundation. It was alleged that those who made donations to the Clinton Foundation benefited from special influence when Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State. It is difficult to prove this one way or the other.

The Newsweek story spoke about the Trump Organisation’s investments in Maharashtra and elsewhere and reported that the organisation has engaged in shady deals in Mumbai, Pune and Gurgaon. The article suggests that a Trump presidency, in order to advance his financial interests, could try to please the Indian government by taking decisions that may hurt US national interests. It raised a pointed question, “If Trump takes a hard line with Pakistan, will it be for America’s strategic interests or to appease Indian government officials who might jeopardise his profits from Trump Towers Pune?”

The merit of this argument is hard to accept, to say the least. But generally, many foreign policy pundits in India seem happy that Trump has kept a positive tone on India. For instance, the Republican Platform talked of India as a ‘geopolitical ally and a strategic trade partner’ whereas the reference to Pakistan was in terms of securing its nuclear arsenal and in the context of the war on terror. In the larger strategic context, the Grand Old Party (GOP) looks to India to play a larger role in Asian and global affairs. The 58-page Republican platform went on to say that ‘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.’

It is almost certain that China is not excited about what Trump had to say about Beijing. The GOP platform, for instance, talked about the complacency of the Obama administration and how that has emboldened China to engage in a series of provocative actions such as issuing “threats of intimidation through the South China Sea” and “parading their new missile ‘the Guam Killer’.”
In addition, the platform drew attention to the continuing cultural genocide in Tibet and Xinjiang as well as how the promised autonomy of Hong Kong is stripped off. China as a currency manipulator and its offences against intellectual property rights were also highlighted. And the list goes on.

Taiwan also figured prominently, with the platform talking about the shared ‘values of democracy, human rights, a free market economy and the rule of law.’ The platform went on to say that the bilateral relations with Taipei will continue to be guided by the provisions of the Taiwan Relations Act, while noting opposition to either side trying to change the status quo. It further added that if China were to use means other than dialogue to force upon a situation on Taiwan, ‘the United States, in accord with the Taiwan Relations Act, will help Taiwan defend itself.’ The manifesto also mentioned the need to pursue ‘timely sale of defensive arms including technology to build diesel submarines.’ This categorical statement must be reassuring to Taipei in the wake of a strong and mighty China that has unilaterally tried to change the status quo in South China Sea and elsewhere.

Indian foreign policy pundits are excited that the mention of India, though limited, is in a positive light and that New Delhi is seen as an actor that should play a greater role in the Asian strategic framework, something former President George W Bush also talked about in his campaign. The fact that China and Pakistan do not stand to benefit a special relationship with the US if Trump were to be elected must be particularly soothing to Indian ears.

[Paraphrased and sourced from New Delhi-based Diplomatist Magazine, www.diplomatist.com

 

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