US foreign policy under Donald Trump: India seeks ally against Pakistan-China axis

NEW DELHI: The India-US “defining partnership” opened a new chapter with the stunning victory of Donald Trump. The element of unpredictability that has just been introduced could go either way, but an initial sweep of Trump’s probable foreign policy gives India an opportunity to up its game with the United States. PM Modi, who scripted a similar victory in 2014, was among the first to tweet his congratulations to Trump, hoping for a closer relationship.

During the campaign, Trump referred to India in several ways: As a country that was growing fast, as a country that was stealing American jobs, and as a target for terrorists. Early on in his campaign, he declared he was “looking forward to working with Narendra Modi”.

India will be watching closely to see how Trump actually deals with the world, but New Delhi could turn to its advantage some of the available indications. Trump has not really focused on China, which is America’s greatest strategic challenge. But his exhortation to South Korea and Japan to arm themselves to counter China is significant for India. It’s well known that both Japan and South Korea could become major powers very quickly, leading to a multipolar Asia.

Trump has also promised to ramp up US military presence in the South China Sea(SCS). In the recent past, India has quietly despaired that US’ “rebalance” may remain on paper. Increased US presence in the SCS would be welcomed in both New Delhi and Tokyo. It might push Asean nations to make a choice, and not follow Philippines’ yo-yo policies.

While Trump has promised to take China to task on unfair trade practices, India would be on the mat as well because its own trade policies are regressive.

India has benefited from globalisation, but Trump has been elected on a platform that might make the US more inward-looking. That might cause some amount of crossed wires between India and the US. It’s safe to say that Trump will not move forward with the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). For India, which does not qualify for the TPP yet, it might be an opportunity to play a better trade game.

What promises to give India a great deal of strategic comfort are Trump’s dealings with Russia. It’s no secret that Russian President Vladimir Putin favoured Trump as a candidate, and it’s expected that the president-elect may not push Russia into a corner as an enemy or isolate it. If Trump succeeds in bringing Russia back into play as a power, it may not fall into China’s lap, and the emerging global bipolarity will be checked. For India, that would be a welcome development.

New Delhi will wait to see Trump’s approach to Af-Pak and West Asia. During his campaign, he actually spoke of freeing Shakil Afridi, the doctor who helped trackOsama bin Laden but was imprisoned by Pakistan. Will he pull back from Afghanistan or push forward against the Taliban? India should hope for the latter, but will have to prepare for the former.

In West Asia, Trump will possibly be more detached than Obama from the regional power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. America needs West Asian oil less than ever and its security footprint could further reduce. This would not be good news for Saudi Arabia, which has lived off the American security blanket. For some time, India has been improving its own presence in this region, building relationships and creating interdependences. India now has to think beyond H1-B and L1 visas. Immigration and visas are a big reason for the Trump victory, so India has to go beyond these.

The bottomline is that in these early days of a Trump presidency, India should seize the initiative with the new team to be able to shape the India-US relationship. In other words, India has to think out of the box.


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