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New India’s Trump card in Asian space
US President Donald Trump might be known for his so-called idiosyncrasies, whims and fancies, but the Asiatic space nations of the order of Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan too are going their gerrymandering ways. The rise and demise of twin economic groupings such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) have been an apt instance of the Asian nations’ imagination. In a manner, the nations which agree with the notion and the regional historic perspective that Washington needs to be the net security provider of the Asiatic space and the regional maritime space seemed to coalesce with the TPP with the American leadership and strategic mentoring attached with the entire idea of the regional trade conclave. Also in the same setting, the RCEP is the group, which remains today with the Chinese leadership’s blessings though the eleven nations have carried on with the TPP without the presence of the mentor Washington, though it is expected that the US will be cajoled by the likes of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe into re-joining the America’s imagined trade conclave.
The Asian tangle is much simpler than the West Asian quagmire. The Hillary-led notion of the Asian Pivot gained much traction in the Asian firmament which involved a rebalancing of the American strategic and diplomatic assets and interests from West Asia all the way to the seething seas of the Far East. The American idea of staying away from the entangling alliances of the East is in tandem with a no-globalisation and isolationist ways of Trump’s “Go-it-alone America-First” approach in trade and general bilaterals largely. The American iron gate cannot be withdrawn like a drawbridge over the waters surrounding the American citadel of pelf, prosperity and global leadership. If “America’s Asian Pivot” is a defining strategy for the US, then India’s Look East Policy too has been transited to the pedestal of Act East Policy which means more of an Indian activeness and proactivity in the Asian seas and trade scene as and when led by the mercurial Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Manila, both the nation heads met each other in their regular diplomatic dressage after sharing a few words in a gala dinner the day before, wherein all the Asian leaders were dressed up in symbolic and iconic “Barongs”, which is a taut and comfy garment made out of the Pineapple skin.
Prime Minister Modi emphatically added in the words of an Indian national daily report, “You must also feel that India-US relations, while rising above the interests of India and the US can work for the future of Asia, and (see) what we can do for mankind…There are many issues on which we are working together. I would like to assure you that whatever expectations the world has of India, and whatever expectation the US has, India has made all-out efforts to fulfil those expectations and it will continue to do so.” The Modi-Trump “bilateral” spoke about a greater global responsibility and direction in the transaction between India and the US, wherein both the World leaders are leading a transformative international system and the larger world system and the comity of states expects a larger-than-life-outcome for both the nations, the region and the larger globe in the final summation.
The entire diplomatic exercise dwells on the much-talked about “Quadrilateral or the Quad” of nations comprising India, the US, Japan and Australia as the net regulators of the regional politics and to serve as the net security providers in the region. What emerged as a pithy, likable and long-lasting demarche out of the “Quad talks” is the re-emphasis and re-assertion of the notion of the democratic values and ethos which form the foundational bulwark of the original India-US ties. Thus, the concept and the tenet of the Quad extricates itself out of the banality of objectivities and spawns for itself the sobriquet of an ethical relationship along with the idiom of values and the demos coming through. Also, the regimes of counter-terrorism and non-proliferation were also brought back to the idiom of regional international relations with Trump and Modi stating the centrality of the global war on terror if that is how President Bush Jr classified Taliban, al-Qaeda and Islamic State as, which had not emerged on the West Asian firmament then.
One conditionality, which can be earmarked, is that the American presence in the South China Sea and its and India’s insistence on freedom of navigation, maritime space and the adherence to a “rules-based order” in the troubled water is not a novae development nor is it the 21st century interventionism. The idea is that it was since the 20th century days of Clark Airbase and the Subic naval base plus with the American forces in South Korea, the Americans always had a presence in the region and its waters. The question is how the various affected nations are going to line up between the choices of the leadership provided by the People’s Republic of China and the mentoring and security umbrella as its exists under the American tutelage. Thus, the regional economic groupings in the red zone are part of the larger notion of Cold War Redux with both PRC attempting to slice off the American influence and assets in the larger Asiatic space.
It is hardly a conflict between the Orient and the Occident but a real politique battle of guns is on with US offering mediation in the South China Sea dispute. Still, in the context of New Delhi, the American national daily had called Modi as a fellow nationalist crusader attempting to get American support in a containment of China in June, 2017. This appellation might amount to an over simplification and a generalisation of the American doctrine in South Asia. The correct terminology is that President Trump has suggested New Delhi to be more proactive in Afghanistan commensurate with its new international stature and even to provide for boots on ground if the scenario demands. Can India unleash the mother of all bombs in the badlands of Afghanistan? It’s more of a theoretical exercise with India delimiting its role and help to Kabul.
It’s no surprise that President Trump perceives New Delhi as a true blue balancer in the region, wherein India can meet Chinese designs in the near future after its own upliftment has been gladly achieved. The question is despite the differences over immigration, jobs in America, climate change and non-proliferation, a possible alliance can be smartly attained and schematically propagated all across the global and regional firmament. And, the testing ground for the “Changed New India” in the realm of foreign policy and international relations can be the South Asian region and the trade wars in the near East. Trump too can ignore the appellation of “Old man” by the “Rocket Man” if new nations take the lead in the region in a striving to expand influence and cooperation.
(The writer teaches International Relations at Indian Institute of Public Administration, Delhi)
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