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Monday, January 2, 2017

2017: Dawns with Challenges Abound!

Come 20th instant, we shall witness Donald Trump, the millionaire businessman and casino owner, putting his hand on the Bible to take the oath of office of the US President from Capitol Hill to preside over the affairs of the US as also define world affairs.  Now the moot question is: Is it for the good or bad of world at large?

It is however difficult to say either way, for the disagreement within the US itself is so polarized. Nevertheless, those ‘forgotten’ white men who hope that Trump by imposing 35% tariff on the products of any company that moves its production abroad will retain jobs for them will have to soon learn that consumer goods become more expensive for them. This phenomenon would get further accentuated with his plans to   impose high tariffs of 35% on imports from China and Mexico “to discourage companies from laying off their workers in order to relocate in other countries and ship them back to the US tax-free”, besides engendering the risk of retaliation from the countries effected by his protectionism measures. Over it, his protectionism-driven policies, particularly scrapping of trade agreements, are certain to pose a great challenge to export-driven countries.

His appointing Scott Pruitt as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency and Rick Perry as the Secretary of Energy—the known deniers of climate change—foretells that Trump Presidency may not give the desired support to the Paris Agreement, which, if happens, is sure to exacerbate the climate challenge faced by developing countries like India, besides driving the fossil fuel prices to rise further.

On the external front, his “America first” approach is certain to change America’s role in the global arena. His appointing the chief of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson— who has no diplomatic experience but has extensive business interests in Russia with an easy access to Russian President, Putin—as the Secretary of State suggests that Trump wishes to normalize relations with Russia and perhaps through it would like to handle the challenges posed by the IS and jihadi terrorism. Over it, moving closer to Russia he perhaps, plans to wean it away from China so that he could confront China on issues such as manipulation of currency, indulgence in unfair trade and militarizing the South China Sea. But this friendly orientation towards Russia is already making European governments wonder if they have to search for security alternatives for NATO. In a similar vein, Americans are disturbed by Trump’s expressed scepticism about intelligence assessment regarding Russia’s involvement in their recent elections  (hacking). As far as India is concerned, this move of US to move closer to Russia, India’s old and trusted friend, affords a leeway for India to further consolidate its relations with Russia and thereby stall some of the recent moves of Russia such as its weapons sale to Pakistan at the behest of china. In all this, Tillerson becomes the obvious key player, with whom India should soon build-up rapport.

Incidentally, Trump has already infuriated China by accepting a call from the leader of Taiwan. But if the recent capturing of American Navy’s underwater drone by China is any indication of its orientation towards the US, Trump cannot have an easy walk.  This, coupled with China’s expectation about Trump’s planned withdrawal from Japan and Korea creating space for it to assert dominance in Asia, is what is going to define the geopolitical landscape in the days to come.  It is however too early to take any of these speculations as certain for the US may finally settle down for managed competition or take a hard line of confrontation with China. This coupled with the likely change in the leadership in China, it makes any prediction about its role in regional politics premature. In this fluid arena, India need to so fine-tune its foreign policies that it could steer through it with a clear gain. In this context, India must of course, pay special attention to build dependable relations with japan.  

Then moving to Europe, we are facing an equally dismal picture. Following the Brexit and the election of Trump as President on the premise “America first” that rose xenophobic forces across the continent, Italy’s populist parties had seen to it that the constitutional referendum is defeated forcing Prime Minister, Renzi to resign. The Netherlands and France are heading towards crucial elections with the same kind of nationalism-/protectionism-driven slogans. And amidst this reemergence of stat-egotism and nationalism, Germany, which hitherto stood like a stable pillar suddenly found itself tumbling: the recent suspected terror strike in Berlin that claimed 12 lives along with a spate of similar incidents last July which have a bearing on the liberal immigration policies of Germany made Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor face a political storm. The growing discontent between Turkey and the EU, the civil war in Syria and the fall of Aleppo that signals the collapse of US and European influence are likely to result in a fresh surge of migrants across EU. Cumulatively, these developments are certain to challenge Merkel’s political and diplomatic acumen in upholding her respect for ‘pluralistic-democracy’ driven by the rule of law and the 28-nation EU intact.

With Trump—a 'unilateralist' known to focus less on values and more on ‘transactions’—as President, as America’s global leadership is thus likely to come to an end soon transforming world as a leader-less, India has to cleverly steer itself through the uncharted waters to stay afloat as an emerging economic power. Of course, it is not going to be an easy task, for it has to manage equally daunting domestic challenges: the negative fallout of demonetization and the resulting political turbulence.


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