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Donald Trump in Asia

Friday, November 10, 2017
By Ranajoy Sen

His visit to Japan, South Korea, and China has one another crucial dimension. Would the American Foreign Policy take any twists or turns towards the unexpected?

Donald Trump has set forth for a tour of Asia. Among the countries he is set to visit, Japan, South Korea and China occupy positions of prominence. The American President has reached Tokyo, and is slated to go to Seoul and Beijing, subsequently. What would be his priorities? Would American Foreign Policy take any twists or turns towards the unexpected? Or would it be a reinforcement of American positions in that region with necessary adjustments?
It is bound to be geared towards the continuation and reiteration of US interests. But, Japan, South Korea and China would not want their interests downgraded. All sides would have to work out their respective interests, workable patterns and make the best out of prevailing attributes.  

American policy towards Asia has not been beyond reproach. To put it more bluntly, it has been interspersed with several blunders along the trajectory of the past seventy years. The United States of America had to cope with managing the legacy of the post-colonial period, where political space was being vacated by its European allies, to be taken over by indigenous regimes. The main area of contention and consternation was the Indo-China region or what is known as South-East Asia. The countries of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos constituted it. To draw a balance between the Communist China, the then Communist Soviet Union lurking nearby and the governments of Indo-China region, America overreached its steps. The aftermath was a horrible, heart-wrenching war, spanning over fifteen years in Vietnam and its contiguous regions. To stop the potential spread of Communism, America failed to appreciate the overlapping trends of Communism and Nationalism in that area and sort of fell into the abyss, from which extrication came by with much agony, for all concerned.  

A cautionary approach required
Since then, it has proceeded in Asia with apparent caution. In South-Eastern or Eastern Asia, it had Japan as a steadfast ally. But, frictions have arisen and still do; each accuses the other of trying to get the better of one another. But, it is undeniable that Japan is in a tight embrace with America as regards security matters. The aftermath of the Second World War led America to impose a treaty on Japan, whereby it could not raise an organised military of its own. In return, the United States would be its protector. That agreement has worked out quite successfully. Japan, through American aid as also by its sheer tenacity and will power, worked out an arrangement of prosperity and stability from the ruins of the Second World War.    

Meanwhile, Communist China under the stewardship of Mao and his colleagues was politically untouchable. The Americans instigated various treaties and pacts to contain the spread of the influence of Communist China. Whether or not they were smashing successes is somewhat moot. The newly liberated countries of Asia and Africa, weary of the legacy of European colonialism, were not too keen to buy into the American argument of taking an antagonistic stance against the Communist nations and walk into the lap of western alliances. But, those countries were also too wary of creeping totalitarianism, which the Communist model presented. To settle for a constructive balance, they, led essentially by India, formed another block, which was known as the Non-Aligned Movement or NAM. The relationship of this group with the advanced western democracies was that of tight rope-walking.
On issues concerning economic exploitation and institutional inequality, NAM found a steady support from former Soviet Union and also from China, at times. But, the path towards sustainable, accountable prosperity lay through the western democratic capitalist model to be acclimatised to suit the indigenous conditions of concerned countries, to the extent necessary.  

Gradually, the calendars turned to 1989. The Berlin wall collapsed. In a rapid succession of events, Communism in Eastern Europe collapsed; then the Soviet Union itself became history and metamorphosed to Russia. After a brief turbulence, self grappling and self-assessment, China abandoned economic aspects of Communism and gradually started embracing market principles. In the subsequent new world order, the United States has had to nuance its position in Asia, while the eternal rules of national interest, diplomacy, and peace and war continue to play out. With the contest now interspersed politically and economically, the challenge is to draw a suitable balance in the concurrent circumstances.

Keen awareness from New Delhi
President Trump’s visit to Japan, South Korea, and China has one other crucial dimension: the war mongering by the rulers of North Korea. Geographically a very limited political jurisdiction, the communist country still happens to symbolise the worst of dictatorship. Additionally, for the past few months there has been a steady display of nuclear weapons, and testing of the medium from which a potential nuclear weapon could be fired.   

It is known even to the ignoramus that even a mad person would not want to use nuclear warheads. But, the threat cannot be undermined. North Korea enjoys the steady patronage of China. Alarmingly, there have even been hints that on certain issues it is not comporting to China’s wishes. However, China seems to not mind much.

Security issues, stability in international politics, national interests, and an appraisal of the prevailing scenario would be the Trump administration’s principal agenda in Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing.

The observation from New Delhi is bound to be marked by keen awareness. For, the dynamics played out are of relative geographical proximity to India. Its potential consequences necessitate Indian alertness.

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