What Does Trump Mean for Asia?

In this guest edition of The Interview, Vishal Manve talks to Raffaello Pantucci from the Royal United Services Institute.

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Ever since Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the US presidential election, Asian countries have been teetering on the brink waiting for his policy decisions. Be it his travel ban that targeted seven Muslim-majority nations, his proposal to reform and possibly cancel H1-B visas that would impact Indian IT workers or his administration’s aggressive stance with Beijing in the South China Sea, Trump’s foreign policy agenda toward Asia is relatively unknown.

While many Indians supported Trump in the run-up to the US election, they have since realized that the US president doesn’t know much about Asians, nor does he necessarily plan to forge successful relationships.

The president’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has also shaken the US relationship with Asian countries. China, meanwhile, has taken the lead to cook up a regional trade platform that could replace the TPP.

In this guest edition of The Interview, Vishal Manve talks to Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute. They discuss issues plaguing Asia, including the political ramifications of a Trump administration for the continent.

Vishal Manve: With Myanmar’s purge of the Rohingya community and allegations of mass abuse, reports have painted the country as being under threat from the Islamic State (IS). How will IS extremism in Myanmar affect neighboring nations? 

Raffaello Pantucci: ISIS [Islamic State] may want to try to take advantage of the plight of the Rohingya as a way of advancing their international cause, but this has been something that jihadist groups have long tried to do with limited success. The environment on the ground is just not the same in terms of being conducive to the spread of extremist ideas, though clearly, the cause is one that we see being referred to regularly in jihadist literature. We have so far only really seen some attempted attacks on Burmese embassies in nearby Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.

Manve: Conflict between India, Pakistan and China regarding numerous issues range from Kashmir’s sovereignty to CPEC—or the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor—and the granting of terrorist status to Azhar Masood. How will the region’s future change in the next few years?

Pantucci: The triangle between China-Pakistan-India is a fascinating one, and one that I think over time will evolve in a really interesting way, with China and India increasingly seeking ways of trying to manage Pakistan between themselves. Clearly, China has the upper hand here and a stronger bond with Islamabad, but the reality is that they have lots of concerns with Pakistan as well, and are more usually focused on trying to find ways of managing Pakistani excesses and Indian expectations and overreactions.

The triangle is going to be a defining one regionally, especially as we see the Western power in the region wain and China starting to find a way of establishing itself as a global power.

Manve: While China seized US submarines recently, leading to a war of words with Donald Trump, Chinese submarines were located in Indian territory. Will this lead to an escalation in India-China tensions in the coming months? 

Pantucci: There will be a continuing awkward dance between China and India. China feels itself superior and India inferior, which is always a dangerous balance, but at the same time, the Chinese want access to Indian markets while India wants Chinese investment. This means that while strategically the two may find themselves in an awkward strategic dance, in economic terms they move closer to interdependence.

All of which suggests that the optics will be consistently difficult. As long as the two do not find themselves in a shooting war and remain with authorities who are focused more on connectivity than conflict, a balance should remain.

Vishal: The US president’s policy on terrorism, South Asia or trade deals is still not clear. Do you think Washington’s changed stance on a variety of issues will further alienate South Asian powers and redraw political alliances in the region?

Pantucci: The new US President has expressed very little interest in South Asia. This will mean a region which has to resolve its own problems. This could be good in terms of focusing locals on thinking more substantially about resolving questions and, in the longer term, points to a growing Western loss of influence.

Vishal: China has managed to influence numerous South Asian countries with respect to security and deployment of troops. Do you think Trump’s election as president of the United States could put an end to this?

Pantucci: I think we will see a more clearly transactional US-China relationship, with the two overtly bartering on things to go forwards. Eurasia and South Asia may end up being the losers in this.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Originally published in The Fair Observer.

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