Donald Trump is like no other US President who has set foot in the Oval Office. His agenda is disruptive, and the world waits with baited breath, and mostly uncertain, on what his actions would be and how that will pan out. Former Foreign Secretary and former Ambassador to China, Salman Haider, tries to decipher Trump in an interview with National Herald’s Editor-at-large Sebastian PT. Edited excerpts.
How do you see the Trump presidency panning out for Indo-US ties? There have been worries on the visa front, outsourcing, trade and intellectual property...
I have not seen anything to suggest that Trump seeks to disrupt Indo-US relations. The basic structure of relationship between the two countries is sound and well-balanced. There will be no dramatic change in ties. The strategic ties between the two had got high priority under President Obama, and it may accelerate in many areas under President Trump.
On the visa and other issues such as outsourcing—which directly affects his voters—there may be some worries.
The Indian lobby in Washington now, except for a few Trump supporters, has not been able to orchestrate support for a pro-India set of policy decisions so far. That could change soon and things will look up.
Election rhetoric aside, do you think the realities of office will temper Trump?
After getting elected, Trump has been sounding like many of his predecessors and quite presidential. There will be some dramatic changes in domestic, regional and international affairs.
We would expect some tangible actions within the American neighbourhood such as the wall on the Mexican border, his stand against free trade treaties. How he’s going to do it and what impact it will have, one would have to wait and see. He has also spoken about closing the doors for immigration. That is, I don’t think Trump is identified with any anti-Muslim policies but he certainly is anti-foreigner.
The dynamics across the Atlantic is set to change…
Trump has been forthright on Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) and has said its time is over. He has openly supported Brexit, and has been having verbal tiffs with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande over his views. The relation between the two sides of the Atlantic is something that must be watched. How his personal relations with President Vladimir Putin plays out is to be watched too.
There will be changes on the larger stage, and much is already taking place even otherwise and has nothing to do with Trump becoming President. Relationship between China and Russia has already changed, for instance, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The combination of the Eurasian region and China could change the balance and dominance in the world. Those are things that have to be watched and how all the major players play it out.
Trump seems to be having a face-off with China already…
Trump has not shown much openness yet with China. There’s an implicit rivalry of global dimensions. The relationship between the US and China needs to be recalibrated, which has happened earlier too when a new US administration takes office. A senior Chinese official once said: ‘It takes six to eight months for a new US administration to develop an approach to us.’ There will be teething problems; but the two countries have major common interests that things may not get out of control. However, the reality is that China is getting more assertive, like the instance of the South China Sea islands. It is not going to play by the rules set by others.
Will that make the US get still closer to India to ‘contain’ China?
India and US have got much closer in the recent past. I would not want use the term ‘containment’ but we have common things that get us closer such as democracy and rule of law.
Will Trump remove sanctions against Russia?
Trump is not likely to be confrontational. His basic approach is on ‘making deals’; he’s someone who feels that issues can be solved through mutual accommodation. He has hinted at removing sanctions against Russia and has spoken of making deals with it. He has indicated that he will not be bound by his predecessor’s undertakings. What that precisely means may not be clear, but on Russia a change of approach is very much on the cards.
How will that play out in West Asia? Will there be a relook at the removal of sanctions against Iran?
The US strategy in the region has changed and evolved. It is in everyone’s interest to not rescind on the decision to remove sanctions against Iran, even if there are efforts by Israel to the contrary. In Syria, I don’t see America responding to the enhanced Russia activity so long as the issue is contained within that region. However, one must note that Turkey is not a silent spectator anymore.