By: Haris Khurshid*
U.S. President Donald J. Trump in White House can either be the beginning of a new world or beginning of an end. The ideals of human rights, open borders for the oppressed, collective defense of friends from middle-east to Asia, preferential trade agreements and billions of foreign aid were the main determinants of US foreign policy which offered her the role of being a major player in the post WWII era. Together with European allies, US strategically morphed bipolar world into a unipolar one by defeating communism and establishing a system of military alliances and economic integration. New order was popular having no adversary, as USSR plunged into economic decay and China aligned with evolving dynamics and emerged as an economic giant through successful economic liberalization.
Moreover, the onset of new millennium and increased degree of uncertainty, due to events like 9/11, Iraq and Afghan War and global financial crisis of 2007-8, dented the iron-clad strength of international economic system. In subsequent years the chaotic Arab spring brought down decades old entrenched monarchies further eroding stability in the region. In Syria a stalemate, in an ensuing civil war between Russia-Iran-backed Assad’s Regime and US-Turkey-Gulf supported moderate resistance forces, reduced the country to rubble. With thousands of Syrians killed, at least million knocked the doors of Europe seeking asylum. This in turn fanned growing waves of nationalism in Europe and rise of nativist populist movements with xenophobic ideologies. Euroscepticism is growing in the face of continued economic slowdown and integration is being viewed as a shackle weakening nation-states and robbing them of unique identity. The “Brexit” is a classic example of discarding the idea of economic integration to pursue more independent nation-specific economic policies.
The world is feeling the rush to re-adjust to the new geo-political realities, evolving economic alliances and declining world order, shaped after World War II. At the core of all this is the US’s 45th President and his cynical agenda to alter the decades old bipartisan policy of projecting United States abroad as a savior and custodian of globalization. Ever since his presidential campaign, Mr. Trump was vocal about his plans to ban Muslims from entering US, considered NATO alliance “obsolete” and warned allies that America may not come to their defense in case of war until they agree to shoulder more cost of the presence of American troops. In his first week at Oval Office, Donald Trump through official order pulled US out of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which was a cornerstone of Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” Policy. To remind his voters that he meant it, He fulfilled the pledge by ordering a wall along Mexico borders and placed more number of immigration officers on southern border to increase deportation of illegal migrants. Likewise he banned entry of refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries including Syria. The new President made telephone calls to Vladimir Putin and besides exchanging pleasantries, the two made commitment to keeping active cooperation in certain areas such as the fight against ISIS. This newfound bonhomie between Trump’s America and Putin’s Russia is terrifying allies in European Union and NATO. Interestingly, President Trump is no going easy on China by hinting to reverse the long observed restraint viz-a`-viz One-China policy by making overtures to Taiwan, intensifying trade war and challenging Chinese maritime buildup in South China sea. The president considers transformation of US from superpower with stakes in global order to a more inward and self-focused nation will “Make America Great Again”. In his inaugural speech he declared that “The United States will no longer subsidize the armies of other countries while allowing the sad depletion of our military”. Also, through another executive order, the new administration is planning to reduce funding to UN and other organizations by 40% while potentially walking out of multilateral treatise is also on the cards.
This insulation from conflict ridden world or keeping hands off exporting liberal democracy, bolstering allies’ defense and foreign nation building, will though save America some resources, however the resulting vacuum created after US shuns the role of world leader is a nightmare which is giving sleepless nights to some in the US security establishment. The new administration under President Trump is expected of more drastic policy changes in divergence with his predecessors which may potentially strain relationship between White House and policy makers at State department and Department of Defense.
On the flipside, China is the potential major winner of the post-Trump US isolationism. The country has already made inroads in Latin America and any major trade treaty with European Union and Pacific Rim countries will boost global confidence in China’s leadership. Chinese commercial outreach to the world through soft power diplomacy and mutualism will enhance its role in global politics. Pacifying disputes with neighbors in South China Sea will lower threshold of conflict and reduce American influence in its backyard. Also, China has to open its doors to skilled immigrants, academics and innovators from around the globe to diversify its economy.
(Chinese President’s Speech highlights at Davos)
Increased collaboration with the United Nations, EU and International Financial institutions will bolster China’s position in global political arena and earn it recognition as major player in the new liberal order. For now China is waiting out new US administration as new policies are being unfolded but at perfect timing it has to step in to secure its own stakes in established global order. As recently Chinese President Xi Jinping assured at World Economic Forum in Davos that his country will come forward to defend economic globalization while rejecting idea of protectionism and trade wars. Though the number one status of United State is not going away in near future but water has already started flowing in the opposite direction as United States under Donald Trump has no plan to take pain for global gains.
*The writer is blogger with special focus on science, security and international relations