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Need to decode Trump

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Need to decode Trump

There is a definite pattern to US President Donald Trump's approach to international and domestic issues and this is not going to be dictated by his subordinates or his administration, but by him, writes AMIYA CHANDRA

The key to Indo-US trade relationship hinges on President Donald Trump. (In this regard Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first meeting with him recently was significant.) The Indian Prime Minister had a very warm relationship with the previous US President; they both shared their vision through a joint statement in September 2014 to take India-US bilateral trade relationship to $500 billion a year by 2020. It was around $109 billion in goods and services in 2015 and saw a decline in growth in the year 2016. The current level is just around 20 per cent of the target set, much below the comfort factor and puts serious doubts, if the target set can be achieved at all.

With Trump committing himself to more protectionist, nationalistic, isolationistic approach it’s to be seen how the Indo-American relations grow, especially when many of Trump’s commitments made during his election campaign goes against India’s interests.Trump takes pride in being the best dealmaker and has made promises to the American citizens to protect American interests and keep “America First”.

Since Trump took charge — and it has been a tumultuous ride so far for him — the world is far jittery and more confused. The world leaders were hoping against hope, that Trump would take a different approach once he realises the responsibilities of the post and deeper nuances of the trade as well as political relationship. To their horror, he retracted from TPP and gave instructions to review NAFTA. He had been aggressive on the immigration agenda and has been meeting business heads of American multinationals. Till now he has demonstrated that his adversaries have underestimated him. Despite setbacks and controversies he has not backed down till now and has been confrontationist in his approach and vowed to fight on. This really is not what was expected from the US President.

I feel that there is a pattern to his approach; his approach is not going to be dictated by his subordinates or his administration, but by him. He loves to be in the driving seat and that is not going to change any time soon. Though by now the Indian Government would have also activated their backroom channel diplomacy, yet I have a feeling there is little clarity they would have got by now. I feel it’s important to decode Trump as a person before India directly engages with him directly.

China has a very strong grip over American imports; over 22 per cent of American imports are from China. Despite Trump’s rhetoric during and immediately as President-elect, it seems the Chinese were able to reign him enough, as later when he was sworn in as President, he backtracked and promised to continue with One China policy, he also refused to call China a currency manipulator and in fact went ahead and asked for China’s help against North Korea. All his aggressive posturing came to nought and now things are more favourable for China politically, economically and in international foreign trade relationship. Trump moving out of TPP has been a boon in disguise for China, which is ready to occupy the space left vacant by Trump.

I feel all this theatrics is a deliberate strategy of Trump — he believes in disruption, he is confident about himself and is not scared of muddying the waters deliberately to measure the strength of his counterparts. President Trump has promised Americans a great number of deals that he is going to make. So how is that going to happen, and what do these deals mean for India?

Trump has already clarified his intent to run for a second term as President, and as has been proven by history, the chances of him continuing are very high. This means he would be at the helm of affairs for a possible eight years and surely for the next four years.

Excerpted from Indian Foreign trade: Trumped Up or Down, written by Amiya Chandra and published by Pentagon Press, Rs 295




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