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East Asian and Indian Trump cards
As Donald Trump celebrates his one-year in office as US President, Western politics remains highly unstable.

The American President has been struggling with both the legislative reforms he promised: an investigation into his associates which has claimed its first casualties and a belligerent stance towards North Korea. Whilst his support base has shrunk, the remaining few are increasingly devoted to him in a worrying show of fanaticism.

 

Part sabre-rattling and part kow-towing..

Trump’s tour of East Asia has been part sabre-rattling and part kow-towing. His “Don’t try us” rhetoric towards North Korea remains full of bombast, while his tone in China was almost simpering. He chose to blame his Democratic predecessors for the trade deficit and the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, had to belatedly roll back these statements. Like his dealings with Saudi royalty, Trump’s ego allowed the Chinese to manipulate him to, at least temporarily, move away from inflammatory rhetoric towards the world’s most populous country. Given Trump’s fickleness, this may however, be a short-term shift; if North Korea continues to improve its weapons technology, his anti-Chinese rhetorics may resurface. After all, his administration has begun investigations of Chinese exports, which may have future repercussions.

 

Positive signs for India

Trump’s trip had positive signs for India. The American President met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Manila. His use of the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ was perhaps suggestive of his intentions. To what extend Mattis and McMaster, the generals who currently serve under him, would support the Indo-Pacific tilt remains unclear.

Whilst the US tried towards working with Pakistan to fight Islamist terror under the Clinton and Bush administrations, since Barack Obama’s time in office the focus has shifted towards India. India is also being seen as the only possible bulwark against China in the region. While Trump has been unhelpful for Indians looking for jobs in America, he may turn out a useful strategic partner.

The working-level meeting of India, Japan, Australia and the United States suggested a growing concern about the Chinese rise as a global power. Whilst India and Japan have long held a close relationship, previous attempts to hold stratergic dialogue among the four countries had fallen apart due to pressure from Beijing. The reconsideration of the Quad is thus a positive sign for the region, suggesting a greater willingness to counter Chinese power projection.

In turn, this has implications for Prime Minister Modi’s Act East Policy designed to open up better links, both commercial and diplomatic, with ASEAN countries like Thailand and Vietnam. They too feel harried by Chinese imperialist tendencies. Philippines, though, has struck a different note. The Quad relationship, could offer an anchor of sufficient weight to offset the Chinese threat.

Trump’s position in America is as precarious, as ever. Rumours, investigations and arrests regarding high-level Russian involvement has grown increasingly common. Despite the relative success of his East Asia tour, his approval ratings at home have continued to slump. Whilst approval ratings cannot remove him from office, it is not inconceivable that Republicans would turn upon him should he become a liability. 

 

Ivanka Trump to Hyderabad...

Whilst her father was touring ASEAN countries, Ivanka Trump has been preparing to lead an American delegation to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India. The event is a testament to India’s attractiveness for business. Amongst the partner organisations are a number of leading US firms, including Amazon, Dell and Google. ‘Women First, Prosperity for All’ will be the tagline. Given her family’s wealth and assistance, although Ms.Trump may not be the most accomplished of entrepreneurs, her presence showcases economic interest in India by her father’s administration. 

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