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  Opinion   Columnists  15 Dec 2016  Trump’s US looms: The world waits, shudders

Trump’s US looms: The world waits, shudders

Published : Dec 15, 2016, 12:23 am IST
Updated : Dec 15, 2016, 12:26 am IST

The China-US relationship has hitherto been based on a “one-China” policy.

US President-elect Donald Trump (Photo: AP)
 US President-elect Donald Trump (Photo: AP)

No one before Donald Trump has made it to the White House with a deficit of more than 2.5 million in the popular vote. Equally, it’s unlikely anyone before him has stirred the pot to a similar extent more than a month before inauguration day.

The assumption that he might sober up after winning the election, as realisation gradually dawned of the responsibilities that would shortly be thrust on him, was largely misplaced. There’s been precious little evidence so far of a statesmanlike posture.

And China, which served during the campaign as a regular scapegoat for the Republican candidate’s wrath on the economic front, is steadily being disabused of the notion that a businessman in the Oval Office would effectively mean business as usual. Nothing that Trump had previously said prepared Beijing for the Taiwan card to be played with such reckless abandon.

It baulked at Trump receiving a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, which was initially construed as a diplomatic gaffe, although it subsequently emerged that the gesture was months in the planning. Since 1979, when the US formally recognised the People’s Republic, there have been no open contacts at the highest level between Taipei and Washington, even though American arms have flowed to Taiwan, amid the understanding that US assistance would be at hand in the event of Chinese aggression towards what Beijing officially regards as a renegade province.

The China-US relationship has hitherto been based on a “one-China” policy. Trump, who at one point during the campaign accused China of “raping” the American economy through currency manipulation and the like, has threatened a 45 per cent tariff on Chinese exports to the US. Hardly anyone considers that feasible. But last weekend the President-elect gave notice that he intends to use the one-China policy as a bargaining chip for economic concessions.

There is certainly a case to be made for recognising Taiwan’s independence. But trying to blackmail China into relinquishing its claim to the island would be extraordinarily unwise.

Then again, there are already plenty of other indications that an extraordinary lack of wisdom is precisely what the incoming administration will bring, to a large extent, on both domestic and international fronts.

Trump’s appointments and nominations so far to his board of directors, aka the Cabinet, range from the reckless to the ludicrous, paving the way for an administration that is beginning to be seen as potentially fascist in its inclinations, given its military and corporate components.

Many of the key appointees will require congressional approval, but it is hard to see the Republican majorities in both Houses putting up much resistance, given that even Trump’s most vociferous critics among the GOP establishment have retreated sharply from their pre-electoral invective. So have most conservative commentators across the West. An American critic, meanwhile, has appropriately noted that instead of “draining the swamp”, as he frequently vowed to do during the campaign, Trump is stuffing it with crocodiles.

Some of the most deleterious effects of the coming presidency will no doubt be felt within the US, but far-reaching consequences can be expected in the wider world as well. China is just one potential flashpoint — and John Pilger’s new, somewhat sensationally titled documentary The Coming War on China offers an excellent overview of why Beijing may have had reasonable cause to feel militarily beleaguered even before the advent of Trump.

Efforts to unravel the nuclear deal with Iran could prove disastrous, but Benjamin Netanyahu — who, somewhat like Vladimir Putin, Rodrigo Duterte and any number of right-wing extremists in Europe espies a kindred spirit in Trump — reckons he stands an excellent chance of convincing the new administration otherwise. Russia, meanwhile, appears to perceive Trump as a potential saviour — and one who has, at that, dismissed out of hand purported evidence from the CIA that Moscow-backed hackers possibly helped to secure his election.

There is, of course, considerable irony in the CIA complaining about foreign interference in securing the election of a far-right candidate, given that has been its specialty over the decades in all corners of the world. And Trump isn’t entirely wrong in saying these are the same people who insisted Saddam Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction. That doesn’t mean the CIA is necessarily barking up the wrong tree this time around, even though the FBI is more circumspect.

Either way, unless direct and incontrovertible evidence emerges of the polling results themselves being manipulated, it’s American voters in particular states who must wear the primary blame for ushering in a Trump presidency. We can’t be sure of its consequences, but the Hollywoodish phrase “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet” comes to mind. And induces an involuntary shudder.

By arrangement with Dawn

Tags: donald trump, white house, vladimir putin