President Donald Trump has acted like the proverbial ‘Bull in a China Shop’ in destabilising global economic, military and power equations. He has virtually ended an era of economic globalisation by unilaterally imposing tariffs on partners and adversaries alike, while seeking friendship with leaders like North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un. American allies such as Canada, Germany, France and Japan have felt the adverse impact of enhanced American duties and other protectionist measures, on their exports. India has not only felt the adverse impact of higher American duties on its exports of aluminum and steel, but also faced a complaint slapped by the US on it in the WTO. This action has been joined by a handful of countries in Europe and Asia.
China is the country hardest hit by enhanced American duties on its exports amounting to $250 billion, with threats of further duty increases and sanctions. While China has responded with enhanced duties on a number of American products, their impact is marginal. Many across the world would not shed too many tears at this, as Chinese trade practices have been blatantly mercantilist. Beijing has a colossal trade surplus of $330 billion in its trade of goods and services with the US and a surplus of $52 billion with India. India has found Chinese non-tariff barriers impairing its exports on items such as pharmaceuticals and has found the Chinese response to its protests, tardy.
Trump’s relations with his major European allies such as France and Germany are as uneasy as those with major powers in Asia. The EU had played a crucial role in partnering the US to end nuclear sanctions on Iran. But the Europeans soon found that he could be a ‘bull in a China shop’ on security and foreign policy issues also. Many European allies have, in turn, backed US military interventions in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Even in West Asia, Trump’s policies of unconditional backing for Israel and Saudi Arabia and animosity towards Iran, are seen as arising from the advice of his Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
While Trump has presently been forthcoming on relations with India on issues such as terrorism, one cannot take anything for granted when it comes to dealing with him. We need to closely monitor how the US deals with ISI-sponsored Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, where American policies are uncertain and evolving. We will also have to be ready to face possible US sanctions on our arms purchases/production of crucial items such as S-400 air defence missiles, naval frigates, submarines and AK 103 assault rifles, from Russia.
While we can acquire select US weapons systems, we will face continuous demands for more purchases. While we have received indications of temporary relief from American sanctions on crucial oil purchases from Iran, the prospect of American sanctions undermining our defence and energy security will remain. This is hardly desirable for a stable relationship between two of the most populous democracies in the world. Global power equations are now changing rapidly.