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Xi, Trump, Asian disorder

China’s rise and domestic turbulence in America have created an opportunity for India in Asia

Written by C. Raja Mohan | Published: November 11, 2017 12:15 am
Donald Trump, Trump in Asia, Xi Jinping, Trump in China, East Asia Summit, US China ties, APEC Summit, Shinzo Abe, North Korea, Narendra Modi, Indian Express U.S. President Donald Trump takes part in a welcoming ceremony with China’s President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. (Reuters Photo/File)

US President Donald Trump’s extended swing through Asia underlines the deep difficulties in sustaining the present order in Asia. At the root of the Asian instability is the changing dynamic between the traditional hegemon, America, and its challenger, China. That Washington and Beijing need each other is not in doubt. What is in play, though, is the terms of a new economic and political settlement between the two. For all the sweet talk by Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping this week, there is no clarity on what a potential accommodation might look like. On its part, Delhi should stay the course on managing its problems with China and deepening ties with the US and key Asian actors, Japan, Korea, the ASEAN, and further afield, with Australia.

On his extended Asian tour, Trump is participating in two major regional summits — the forum for Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation in Vietnam and the East Asia Summit in the Philippines. In the current tour, Trump has also had bilateral visits to Japan and South Korea. Trump’s visit to Beijing was undoubtedly the most important element of this tour. Trump’s exchanges with Xi are also emblematic of the new complexities driving Asian politics. These include America’s demands for “fair” rather than “free trade” with Asia and the problem of accommodating China’s rise without abandoning its long-standing allies and friends in the region.

Before Trump set out, his senior aides laid out the three broad objectives that the president intended to pursue. One was to get greater reciprocity in the commercial engagement with Asia. The second was to strengthen US alliances and partnerships in the region. A third was to get a better fix on North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme. Trump has begun to discover how difficult it is to advance on the three fronts.

On their part, the Asian leaders were happy to pander to the now familiar vanities of the American President. The Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, and the South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, played up the theme of “making America great again”. China’s Xi rolled out a thicker than usual red carpet in what was billed as a “state visit plus” welcome to Trump. The US president, in turn, joined Xi in raising the “flattery quotient” in the US-China engagement. While saying nice things is always part of public diplomacy, Xi and Trump have taken it to new levels. However, while flattery certainly generates the right mood music, it is not enough to resolve structural problems.

Consider, for example, the trade friction between the US and China. Beijing resorted to the familiar trick of wrapping a package of commercial deals with American companies amounting to $250 billion. While the big number grabs the headlines, sceptics point to the fact that many of these “deals” are MoUs rather than commercial contracts. Many of them will take a long time, if at all, to fructify. And this does nothing to resolve Trump’s political problem with America’s massive trade deficit. Trump’s decision to drop his hostile rhetoric against China in Beijing and his move to blame past American presidents for the burgeoning deficit with the US, has got many to jump to the conclusion that trade ties may be on the mend between America and China.

Nothing of the sort. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested that Trump’s remarks blaming past presidents was “tongue in cheek”. “In the grand scheme of a $300- to $500-billion trade deficit, the things that have been achieved thus far are pretty small,” Tillerson said. He insisted that “there’s lot more work to do” in redressing the trade imbalance with China. On his part, Trump is happy to pocket the deals that Xi has to offer, but continued to press him on the problems with China on market access, demands for technology transfer, cyber security, and the larceny of intellectual property. While Trump has softened his words on the trade deficit, he can’t be seen as walking back on the promise to his core domestic supporters that he will deal firmly with the Chinese threat to American jobs.

On the question of political relations, Trump and Xi had nice things to say about the need for greater cooperation and engagement. But there was no apparent breakthrough on the question of North Korea that was at the top of Trump’s agenda. Trump publicly reminded Xi about the need to stop arming, financing and trading with North Korea — most of which takes place from Beijing. At the end of his talks, Trump tweeted that he looks forward to “an even STRONGER relationship” with China in the coming years. (The capital letters are Trump’s.)

Xi was even more effusive in emphasising the partnership with America. He declared that “the Pacific Ocean is big enough to accommodate both China and the United States”. He insisted that Beijing and Washington need to “jointly” promote peace and stability in Asia. This is one of Xi’s core demands on Trump — to share the leadership of Asia on Beijing’s terms. Trump, or any other US president, will have a hard time ceding America’s long-standing primacy in Asia. Before he landed in Beijing, Trump warned the region not to test American resolve and promised to sell lots of advanced arms to its Asian allies.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi heads to the Philippines to join the East Asia Summit, three things stand out: America and China will continue to jockey for political primacy in Asia; the tension between Washington’s traditional commitment to economic globalisation and Trump’s “America First” policies is unlikely to be resolved any time soon; and most countries in the region are beginning to diversify their security partnerships. The rise of China and the turbulence in American domestic politics have created great disorder under the heavens. But they have also opened up much room for creative Indian diplomacy in Asia.

The writer is director, Carnegie India, Delhi, and contributing editor on foreign affairs for ‘The Indian Express’

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  1. Suren Singh Sahni
    Nov 12, 2017 at 3:19 am
    Twenty years ago scholars are debating the Rise of Asia in twenty first century.China and India were two aspiring economies and lot of pundits were confident that India will be the country with democratic and intellectuals fundamentals. Chinese have left us where we were and have leapfrogged four times.Modi was elected on the platform to accelerate the Indian economy and freeing the shackles by ridding corruption.Today he wants to take us back to the caves.Era of Enlightenment in Europe thrust it to the most advance economy for the last three hundred years.From religion to reason.Modi stand up and propel India into future.
    1. P
      paki faive
      Nov 12, 2017 at 12:46 am
      chaina ruler decider, only 10 ppl decided. india ruler , all indians decided. chaina dictator from starting. india allow all equal. chaina disappeared public in jailed if talk like chatter box. indians talking chatter box. but nobody can tell anybody.
      1. P
        paki faive
        Nov 12, 2017 at 12:33 am
        1. P
          paki faive
          Nov 12, 2017 at 12:37 am
          CHAINA ALLREADDY EATING HIS 1 pece. rest 4 peoples first cook then eat. bekaw chaina they without cook. chaina eat kacha . so chaina eat firstly. rest peoplez they cook then eat.
        2. S
          sarwar nasree
          Nov 12, 2017 at 12:09 am
          The article seems to written in context for China US relationship on back drop of Asia summit in Vietnam. The epicenter of emerging powers in South Asia with combine GDP of more than three trillion dollars. With china leading the asian countries, it was the pre election rhetoric by trump against the china on its Burgeoning trade deficit , it is acceptable fact that china is the biggest manufacturing hub political and military power had been an active permanent member of security council with Veto power. The recent Trans Asia Strategic economic partnership that was a crucial agreement which came into effect on Nov 2015 binding agreement aimed to "promote economic growth support the creation and retention of jobs enhance innovation, productivity and compe iveness raise living standards reduce poverty in the signatories' countries and promote transparency, good governance, and enhanced labor with enhanced cooperation , for India only the flattering words from Trump .
          1. L
            L bhadrapati Devi
            Nov 11, 2017 at 10:23 pm
            US monopoly of technology can no longer hold after the rise of China. In some area, China has edged over US and its western allies. India even from Asia being suffered from Western colonialism worshiped western science and technology and thought process rather than developing own thought process in every field of study. We are just copying the outdated scientific technology from West rather than developing our own. In North East India, earlier days of Christianity had prevailed American dream among the Naga and Mizo. Now, China dream is prevailing over American dream among the younger generation. Many serial of Korean, China have change the perception of new generation in North East along with their exposure to East Asian countries. Diffusion of foreign goods into India through Chinese origin traders in Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland has the perception that BRI is already started in North east India.
            1. D
              Nov 11, 2017 at 11:16 pm
              Delusional obscurantists from La La Land. As of TODAY USA is 40 years ahead in terms of cutting edge technology. If China is so advanced why does the Chinese are so eager to steal,copy, and acquire western technologies by any means possible????? Update your out dated data base.
              1. M
                Nov 12, 2017 at 3:05 am
                Only an incompetent, impotent will blame his incompetency and impotency on others and use that as justification to sabotage and even pray to God for help in his sabotage. Aren't you one of that? You pervert.
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