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Impact of Trump's exit on SA region

Mir Mostafizur Rahaman | November 23, 2020 00:00:00

US President Donald Trump

As Joe Biden emerged as the winner in one of the most dramatic and eventful presidential election in the history of the USA, many across the world heaved a sigh of relief.

And the outgoing president Donald Trump shows the world that those, who believe that the change of guards in the White House does little affect the US foreign policy, were wrong.

Though the basic goal of the US foreign policy like serving 'the country's interest first' is always remain unchanged but the ground policies on how to serve this interest changes in line with the mental set up and outlook of the commander-in-chief, the President.

And Trump was the ideal example of how personal whim can overhaul the foreign policy drastically.

Under Trump administration, America was the biggest loser in the global front.

He deserted the multilateralism to adopt the 'America first' policy and by doing so he alienated his country from its allies and turned the America into an isolated state leaving its allies doubtful over its intention.

Trump pulled the United States out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Paris Agreement, the Iran nuclear deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the UN Human Rights Council, UNESCO and the World Health Organization. He even threatened withdrawal from the World Trade Organization and criticised NATO and the G7.

Biden is expected to revive the multiilateral stage and to be more engaged in regional alliances.

A long-serving member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden would spearhead a revival of the State Department. In terms of his Asia policy, Biden would preside over an updated, stiffened version of President Obama's "pivot" or "rebalance" policy, the formulation and implementation of which will at least take regional interests more seriously, sad an analyst.

Trump's decision to pull out from the Iran nuke deal and Climate deal was a major shock to its allies who have been backing it for years to counter the supremacy of the Soviet Union in the communist era and the China at present.

US President-elect Joe Biden

So Biden's assumption of power of the most influential country of the world will definitely reshape the dynamics of the global diplomacy and of the South Asian region.

It is true Bangladesh is not in the focus of the US foreign policy but in recent times Bangladesh draws significant interest from the US State Department mainly to offset the growing influence of China in the region.

Bangladesh was termed as a basket case soon after the independence by the Nixon administration but with its impressive economic growth throughout the last decade, and with its geopolitical position, the country becomes unavoidable to the US foreign policy designers.

Recently we have seen a series of efforts from the US State Department to woo Bangladesh to the Indo Pacific Strategy (IPS), dubbed as a counter strategy to Chinas Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

US vice president-elect Kamala Harris

Bangladesh has already become a part of the BRI to have an access to the huge fund offered by China under the platform.

This fund is considered crucial to the infrastructural development of Bangladesh and to sustain the economic growth.

On the other hand, Bangladesh has agreed in principle to be part of the IPS with a view to ensuring a stable and peaceful atmosphere in the Indian Ocean and in the pacific Ocean. But at the same time Dhaka has made it clear that it would not join any defence related exercises under the IPS.

Question is what will be the fate of the IPS under Biden administration.

It is true that IPS started to get momentum under the Obama administration but its aggressive pace was steered during the Trump era.

So if IPS would lose its steam and Biden prefers a less combative approach towards China, countries like Bangladesh might not be wooed with such a vigor as it was by the Trump administration.

Similarly the scrapping of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal by Trump paved the way for countries like Bangladesh to export more products to the US market.

Under TPP competitor countries like Cambodia, Vietnam got some advantage in terms of duty exemption.

If Biden's foreign policy operators would like to reintroduce the policies of the previous Democratic administration under President Obama, something similar to TPP might be resurfaced to strengthen US alliance with its pacific partner countries..

A major component of the foreign policy of any Biden will be thrust on human rights and with Kamala Harris as the Vice President the argument is more practical.

So governance will come under fresh scan of the State Department with allegations of extra judicial killing and forced disappearances.

Experts believe that under the Trump administration the State Department was so mush obsessed with China that the human rights records of other countries was almost left overlooked by the USA.

Foreign Office high ups also made such comment that Bangladesh found the Trump administration less bothered about the internal affairs of the country.

Under Biden this may be changed with more pressure on human rights issues.

Biden's rule is likely to benefit the Bangladeshi community in the USA ass the Democrats are traditionally pro-emigrant.

So there will be the repeal of the harder immigration rules which can pave the way for more visits by Bangladeshis to the USA.

What about other parts of the subcontinent?. India is one of the few countries where Trump's policy got support of majority as 56 per cent of Indian, surveyed by an international organization, said they trusted Trump's foreign policy.

So what about Joe Biden? There is a mixed opinion among Indian foreign relations pundits about the possible outcome of the new administrations.

One should also remember that Biden helped negotiate $1.5 billion in military aid to Pakistan in 2008, an effort for which he was awarded the Hilal-e-Pakistan, the country's second-highest civilian honor.

"There are several possible reasons why Indians were comfortable with Trump. For one, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quick to build a personal rapport with the U.S. president. They attended high-profile joint events in Houston and in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Second, policies such as Trump's travel ban may have found a sympathetic audience in Modi's India. And third, Trump's hawkish stance on China gave renewed impetus to the rationale for expanding U.S.-Indian ties on defense and intelligence sharing" said an analyst.

But the argument is that Modi has the capacity to can build rapports with both Republican and Democratic leaders so many do not think that too much will be changed under Biden administration.

And that is why Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who in September 2019 had said 'Abki baar, Trump Sarkar', congratulated Biden for his "spectacular victory" and said he "looked forward to working closely" with the new US administration to take the bilateral ties to "greater heights".

Indian experts hope that India will find a "long-time friend" in Biden, who "will keep the long-term strategic interests" of the India-US relationship in mind.

The optimistic analysis is that recently the U.S.-Indian relationship has progressed-in defense, intelligence-sharing, trade, and people-to-people ties-over the past two decades under both the Democratic and Republican rules and India is one of the few foreign-policy issues with bipartisan agreement in Washington.

But many also argue that New Delhi should be wary of how Kamala Harris might be tougher on India as vice president, putting human rights at the centre of her outlook.

It may be mentioned that Obama was critical to Hindu majoritarianism when he visited India in 2015.

Biden administration could be "critical of New Delhi about human rights and religious freedom" when it comes to Kashmir and other issues concerning minorities in India.

In a recent op-ed Biden hinted at his intention to highlight rights issues in India. He said, "We will meet every challenge together as we strengthen both democracies, including freedom of expression and religion".

Criticism would not be well received by an Indian government that often appears allergic to uncomplimentary overseas commentary about its domestic affairs, said a foreign policy analyst.

But definitely the United States and India will find common cause in their hardening stances against China.

And there is Indian American community factor also. US population comprised with one per cent of Indian American community. Kamala Harris is the not only the first female or Black vice president of the USA, she is also the first vice president of Indian descent which is a great boost for the Indian American community.

Nirupama Menon Rao, former foreign secretary and the first Indian woman Ambassador to China, recently said, Biden has always been seen as a steadfast friend, a key ally, of India from his days as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As an institution builder, I believe he will keep the long-term strategic interests of the relationship in mind and he understands the complementarity of these interests and our shared democratic values," added Rao, who has also served as Ambassador to the US.

At the same time it becomes clear that India needs to be more cautious to deal with the changed scenario.

India has now taken a stand to align more with the US after the LoC tension with China. Considering the fact that IPS may no tbe that much aggressive under the Biden administration, India has to ensure getting US backing through deeper and more meaningful friendship with Biden in any possible stand-off against China.

It may be mentioned that just before the US Presidential elections New Delhi and America held their third round of 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in which both sides signed a key defence pact while sending out strong signals to China and Pakistan.

It is also believed that Biden will prefer to forge a close relationship with Islamabad in a bid to weaken its ties with Beijing.

India and the US have also vowed to make their defence and security ties stronger. Defence trade between the two countries is poised to exceed $20 billion soon while lessening New Delhi's decades-old dependence on Moscow for purchases of armaments - ranging from guns, lethal drones and fighter-planes, among others.

Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal recently said, Biden presidency will maintain positive momentum of India-US ties. He is experienced in foreign policy and knows India and South Asia well. Defence ties will continue to expand. The Pakistan factor will not inhibit this. China factor will be overriding one. Indo- Pacific concept and Quad will preserve momentum.

India had participated in the last meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also known as the Quad, along with the US, Japan and Australia in October.

To back the argument that Biden administration will maintain closer relations with India many pointed out that in 2001, it was Biden who had written a letter to then US President George Bush to end the sanctions on India.

And as the ranking member of the US Senate Foreign relations committee in 2008, Biden had piloted the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement through the Senate.

The impact of the exit of Trump on Pakistan may be a positive one as unlike Trump, Biden has a strong understanding of the country.

Biden also has relationships with leaders across the civilian and military ranks in Pakistan which can be instrumental in further enhancing the ties between the two countries.

But it should also be remembered that the ties soured during the Obama administration where Biden was the Vice President. But his deep experience with Pakistan's political chemistry may also help to achieve a comfort with the country if the US really wants to woo back Pakistan from the Chinese influence.

But the entire US foreign policy under Biden will largely depend on his handling with the China issue.

Trump's policy towards China was totally combative and recently the US Secretary of Defence went to such an extent that he openly advocated for bringing an end to the rule of the Communist Party in China by saying that 'if we do not change the Communist Party they will change us'. It was seen as an open provocation for regime change in Beijing.

It is believed that under Biden the competition will remain but the nature will be less combative but more diplomatic.

The tone will be of mutual coexistence and of agile diplomacy and you may see a lot of diplomatic engagement between the two rivals to wither the present atmosphere of distrust and tension.

There will be an effort to check China's growing influence so that the US supremacy can be sustained but that would be done through diplomatic maneuvering instead of muscle flexing excercises.

There was a trend of deserting multilateral diplomacy under Trump administration triggering tension in the global political scene.

America First policy turned into America Alone policy and confidence on America among allies saw a massive fall. Biden is expected to remould the American policy

And it is evident that Biden will be not in a hurry to implement the Trump decision to pull out from Afghanistan as he will do it after certain diplomatic showdown.

The US needs to show the world that the engagement is Afghanistan was justified and the pull out was made as the objectives were achieved.

There should be an instrument to convince the world and to achieve the instrument there will be more negotiations with the Talibans. Without having an atmosphere to prove that the February agreement among the rival factions in Afghanistan is being implemented, pull out might not take place.

And if Biden prefers to reenter into the Iran nuclear deal, things will be further changed in the Middle East in particular and in Asian in general.

Withdrawal of sanction on Iran will make Iran less serious about the proposed Iran-China alliance.

It will revive the prospect of greater economic cooperation between Iran and the subcontinent specially with India. India eyes Iran's energy resources for long but due to sanctions that could not be materialised properly.

It can be predicted that under Biden, the USA will be less dramatic and more orthodox in pursuing its foreign policy unlike the Trump administration where nothing was predictable and stable.

Author is a special correspondent of the FE covering diplomatic affairs.

E-mail: [email protected]

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