By MR Josse
KATHMANDU: Asked the other day what impact the installation of Donald Trump as president of the United States would have, I replied: it will depend very largely on his policy towards China, which would substantially influence America’s relations with Nepal’s other neighbour, India.
Before venturing any further I do wish to remind readers of the essence of the maiden piece in my current ‘geopolitically speaking’ series. Therein, in early June last year, when practically no one expected Trump to succeed in his presidential electoral bid, yours truly recommended heeding the cogent “geopolitical home truths” he had been espousing during his electoral campaign.
In the shortlist of such verities I included his unflagging quest to end illegal immigration into the United States, based on the unimpeachable geopolitical truism that “No state can be secure with insecure borders. This applies equally to the United States, Russia, China, India – or Nepal.”
I then related the bearing of that verity to its natural corollary – “That an open border between a small state, both in terms of population and size, with another that dwarfs it on both counts, is a ticking time bomb for the disadvantaged one” and, then going on to question, “Can one truly assert that tiny Nepal can remain secure and sovereign for all time to come, sharing an open border with gargantuan India with an exploding population?”
The other key geopolitical reality that Trump continually flogged was the undeniable nexus between an unfettered flood of refugees/immigrants into a country and is deleterious impact on national security. Though Trump was constantly berated for speaking out bluntly about the danger to America’s national security from influx of radical Islamic jihadists, several horrific acts of terrorism within the United States, and, even more horrendously in Europe, has proven beyond doubt that he was not as hare-brained as charged by those pandering to political correctness, at all costs.
Finally, I made the case that Trump’s overarching policy theme – putting the country first – makes eminent sense for a Nepal where her ‘loktantrik’ politicos consistently and constantly frame policies that confuse India’s interest with Nepal’s core national principles. Such an uncommon coincidence of interests can happen only if Nepal and India are one and the same country!
US AND CHINA
To come, now, more directly to this column’s core – Sino-America relations in the Trump era – all knowledgeable persons have come to appreciate that while China-America ties constitute the most important bilateral relationship in the world today there is, as of this writing, no unassailable indication which way the American foreign/security policy cat will jump.
Will a Trump administration – top-heavy with generals – decide to ‘take on’ China, not only in the domain of international trade and related areas but perhaps also attempt to overturn the long-established American endorsement of Beijing’s One China policy, not to mention frontally challenging China with regard to her claims with respect to the South China Sea? At this point, we simply do not know, for sure: while there have been ample grounds suggesting that a more muscular China policy may be on the cards (as has been discussed here recently), Trump has also sent out positive feelers, including naming a well-known former US Governor and friend of Chinese President Xi Jinping as his ambassador to China.
There are, moreover, at least two other possibilities to consider: one, that America needs China’s active cooperation in order to ‘tackle’ the sensitive issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, with Pyongyang presently reportedly on the cusp of testing a nuclear-tipped ICBM capable of reaching the United States mainland; and two, that all the strident signaling on China policy from Trump Towers until just recently is part of what in Trump’s mind constitutes the opening gambit in a long and complex negotiation process between Washington and Beijing over a whole gamut of trade and interconnected issues.
Though, before long, one can assume that the specific contours of America’s new foreign/security policy vis-à-vis China will be unveiled, there is the possibility – given Trump’s ‘America first’ mantra and many pronouncements favoring less foreign interventions – that a modus vivendi will be hammered out, so that the basic, strategic interests of the two superpowers do not collide headlong.
What lends not a little credibility to the just-painted scenario are (a) that China and the United States do not have any territorial disputes between themselves; and (b) that the Pacific Ocean is large enough to cater to the basic national or strategic interests of both.
However, despite what has just be stated, if the Trump administration chooses to challenge China on the South China Sea or Taiwan, all hell will break loose.
In that case, one does not need to be a geopolitical mastermind to predict that (a) America and India, among others, will forge perhaps even closer strategic ties than obtained during the bromance between President Barack Obama and India Prime Minister Narendra Modi; and (b) that India’s pressure on China, especially in Tibet through Nepal, will rise exponentially and perhaps even brazenly.
To be sure, in those hypothetical circumstances, China will not continue on her current wait-and-watch policy vis-à-vis Nepal; if Beijing’s sense of encirclement along her soft underbelly rises to above its threshold of patience and restraint, I would not be surprised if we were to witness a preemptive Chinese military intervention in Nepal.
What is deserving of our focused attention in the above context is that ever since Trump’s victory Modi’s India has been remarkably quiescent. To my mind, that bespeaks of New Delhi’s uncertainty about Trump’s foreign/security policy, particularly as it affects India and China. Indeed, the key to understanding such an uncharacteristically silent stance would seem to lie in Modi’s reckless, all-out support for Obama and Hillary Clinton, even after the American presidential election cycle had begun.
To cut a long story short, that summarizes what the ‘Trump effect’ Nepal could be!