Earlier this week President Trump waded into a decades old border dispute between two of the world’s most populated and powerful countries – China and India. Both are nuclear power and among the five largest economies in the world. These Sino-Indo disputes are historically ones which India has never wanted mediated by a western nation and one which China has picked its spots to engage in.
Recently, with Coronavirus consuming both economies, the tension has increased and both nations have behaved badly. India, initially sensing Chinese weakness in January became provocative. Then once India had been placed in lockdown thanks to the spread of the virus due to open borders with Western Europe and the USA, China began behaving aggressively. Unfortunately all of this has led the two nations to the brink of a shooting war.
China and India have several ongoing simultaneous border disputes as well as conflicts about spheres of influence in South Asia. India’s granting of exile to the Dalai Lama in 1959 has made it largely impossible to solve, but armed status quo is preferable to all-out war.
This is a complicated situation but one where at least for the last 50 years, India has not wanted American help with. This week’s tensions revolve around the mountainous region of Ladakh.
After ignoring tensions that almost led to war in 2017 in Doklam, this week President Trump waded into the conversations via Twitter. Trump also publicly discussed a conversation with Prime Minister Modi about India’s growing concern with the situation.
Problem is that apparently the conversation never took place. And if it did, the way it was represented by Trump appears to be an outright lie.
So this begs the question…did China actually back channel with Trump to get involved? Or was he simply imagining this as another place to rhetorically hit China while empowering them through either malfeasance or ignorance?
Trump’s posture toward China is curious. Rhetorically he lobs bombs at them but privately he caves to Chinese Communist Premier Xi. Trump’s actions in withdrawing the United States from its leadership of liberal democracies including withdrawal from the TPP and now the WHO has empowered China in a way unimaginable even five years ago. Trump’s missteps in global diplomacy have led those in the developing world to look more and more to China for leadership and assistance over the course of the last three years.
Chinese soft power has grown under Trump while American soft power is rapidly disintegrating. That’s one part of what is at stake in November and why Joe Biden MUST get elected to restore the global order.
The second concern which this episode exposes is Trump’s willingness to lie or tell half-truths about conversations with foreign leaders. Soft power requires trust to work. Trump had engaged in a very public “bromance” with Modi, a fellow populist who like the US President combines hard right-wing social views with generally left-wing government-driven economics.
American society is polarized and the President’s use of social media and recent attacks on Twitter have only intensified this feeling. Racial animus is spreading much like it has in days long gone we believed. We have fights breaking out about wearing masks and neighbors are turning on one another.
Yet, somehow from my perspective, Trump’s greatest damage is what he has done to the credibility and image of the United States abroad. A Trump reelection would mean the United States is FINISHED as a global power and a nation to be admired and emulated. Our values are under attack at home and abroad, but unlike in the past, it is actually OUR ELECTED LEADER leading these attacks. This again begs for someone of Joe Biden’s background – Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate and an even, steady hand that will be trusted.
Will anyone ever trust us again? Will we ever be able to be a positive force for the global order again?
If Biden loses the answer is almost certainly no.
The stakes could not be higher.