External Affairs

‘Trump Administration Will Have Different Priorities For Engaging With the World’

It is important to support and maintain the capital that we have as a champion of the developing world, India’s foreign secretary said.

Indian Foreign Secretary, S Jaishankar (File Photo - PTI)

Indian Foreign Secretary, S Jaishankar (File Photo – PTI)

New Delhi: Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, fresh from his US visit, said that the world had to adapt to the changed priorities of a Donald Trump administration – which could have negative repercussions on the “unity” of the western bloc.

“After visiting Washington, continuity and change is probably a very understated way of describing the world today,” Jaishankar said sardonically at the start of his speech at the seminar with the theme, “India and Great Powers: Continuity and Change” on Monday.

Jaishankar and the Ministry of External Affairs have remained silent on his precise engagements in the US. There had been speculation that he was likely to make contact with Trump’s team. Trump is, of course, ensconced in his luxury golf club in New Jersey, as the transition team, led by vice president-elect Mike Pence, scrambles to finalise key cabinet posts. Officially, the MEA had termed his US visit as a routine one to meet with officials and lawmakers.

“Exactly how it (policies of Trump administration) will unfold.. some of the lines are clear from the nature of US election campaign, the positions not just of winning candidate but also the systemic approaches to key issues like TPP. I think what can be safely predicted out of the United States is that the Trump administration will have different priorities and different terms for engaging with the world,” he said.

The queries about Trump’s future policies range across the board. “What does the Trump administration mean? Would it be a administration which will step back from regional economic mechanisms and actually bilateralise a lot of its economic and trade investment deals? Would it rebuild military capacities and actually address many of the challenges with stronger resolve than we may have seen earlier?”

India’s top ranking diplomat also raised questions whether the western bloc – and the convergent positions taken by US and Europe on most global issues – will fray under the expected isolationist and hardline policy of Trump.

“With the happenings in Europe and United States, a big issue is whether we will see in within the western camp, a degree of decoupling with respect to to traditional policies. And many of us who really saw the soviet era, and the post-soviet era and stablisation, today we have to ask ourselves whether Europe is in a sense regionally less stable than before,” he said.

The Indian foreign secretary pointed out that one of the areas of “sharp distinction” between US and Europe is in their presence in Asia.

“One question which particularly impinges on our relationship with Europe is whether there is a disengagement between Europe and Asia. Not economic disengagement, but political, security and strategic. How concerned is Europe about security developments in Asia?”

Unlike United States, EU has remained conspicuously absent from commenting or taking part actively in the strategic flashpoint of South China Sea.

He pointed out that it remained to be seen “how coherent ASEAN” will be in the face of division on South China Sea policy. “ASEAN in many ways, sort of flowered, in a low pressure environment. And as neighbouring pressures on ASEAN have grown, lot of postulates which underpin the ASEAN have come under stress”.

For India, another great-power relationship that will matter is that of Russia and China, who have moved more and more closer in recent years following the estrangement between West and Moscow over Ukraine.

“If you look over the long period, the interplay between Russia and China have always had profound impact on rest of Asia. Those who know about India’s foreign policy calculations in the fifties, sixties and evolution of policy of Non-Alignment, know how deeply it (Sino-Soviet relations) affected Indian choices and and approaches,” he added.

He described BRICS as a useful platform to find a “common ground” with countries like Russia and China “where the interests of those countries and India may diverge from what till now was a relatively united western bloc”.

Asia was still far from evolving a security architecture, and instead witnessed a “sharpening of national rivalries” as countries jostled to find the right balance.

“At what speed we will get a balance, what kind of balance, these are very open questions right now. One reflection of the balance in the making, is the connectivity competition in Asia. There is a realisation that connectivity will shape not just the economic future of the continent, but also the political,” said Jaishankar.

“In a broader regional sense, I would suggest that the fluidity and free play among great power is translating into greater uncertainties at regional level”.

Later in answer to a question, he pointed out that India judged at competing connectivity projects by standard of whether “they were commercial, or something more”. “Are these connectivity initiatives outcome of part of broader deliberations and wider stakeholdership?”

He admitted that while China’s ‘One-Belt, One-Road’ project had figured in bilateral conversations with Beijing, the Asian giants never had a “detailed, exhaustive discussions” on this subject.

Chinese connectivity

Jaishankar was quick to add that India was not opposed to Chinese involvement in connectivity projects.

“I would point to you to the BCIM corridor which we support. Right now, all the countries have completed their studies and we are reconciling them to go forward,” he said, adding, “I can speak for our government. We are open-minded”.

On the issue of Islamist radicalism, Jaishankar rang a warning bell. “Focus till now has been region west of Asia, we perhaps need to start thinking to consider how it will impact (us) if virus spreads east of India”.

When asked about what kind of Power India would be, Jaishankar asserted, “we will clearly be a Democratic power, a pluralistic power – in a way a Power which is very committed to global rules and practices”

He noted that one characteristic of Indians is an ability to handle multiple identities “and we can take this sociological trait into international diplomacy”.

“For the west, India will be a western power. In the developing world, we will be a developing power…and you can be asian, western, developing all at the same time, if you know how to handle identities as most Indians instinctively do.”

Jaishankar had earlier stated that India was perceived as a “western power” as a “liberal Democracy in the East”.

Interestingly, he pointed out that India will maintain its presence in the Non-Alignment Movement. “It is also equally important to support and maintain the capital that we have as a champion of the developing world. So on trade issues and development issues, forums like WTO and occasions like Nam and G-77, it’s important to find new mechanisms without really letting go of what has worked for us in the past,” he added.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had not attended the NAM summit in Venezuela this year, which had led some observers to claim that India had formally buried its Non-Aligned past.

Jaishankar also described “Maritime spaces” as an area where a more confident India was ready to play its part. 

“Maritime spaces is today too affected by the changes of equation between the great powers, as well as, rise of china as maritime power. From India’s perspective, it is not just that the two big regional hubs on either sides, but also the maritime space south of India, is changing”.

  • ashok759

    The short point is that the costs and perils of India having identified itself too closely with the US are now becoming apparent. Some swift course corrections are required.


    Trump not only sets different priorities for different nations, he also has the capacity to change different conditions at different times according to his convinience. He is unpredictable at best…!