President Trump’s two day trip to India has helped to emphasize the importance of the US-Indian relationship to the world. Even though there are still some obstacles remaining, namely in trade matters, the United States and India are moving closer on many fronts. Defense is certainly one of them. While with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Trump announced the two countries would sign a $3 Billion defense deal which will provide India with American helicopters and other military equipment. Trump was quite pleased when he was welcomed by 100,000 people at an Ahmedabad cricket stadium in a rally-type of event dubbed “Namaste Trump.” As relations with him and Modi become closer, the relationship between the nations they lead becomes more critical to both as we move deeper into the 21st Century.
The US considers India to be a natural counter-weight to China. As China has enjoyed a meteoric rise in economic, and military power this century, India’s own accomplishments in these areas have been equally impressive. Politically and religiously the two countries are polar opposites. There is no democracy in China per se. The communist party maintains control, and leaders are not selected by the citizens they serve. India bills itself as the most populous democracy in the world where the people choose their national, regional, and local leaders. Hinduism is the majority religion in India with Islam the largest minority. In China there is no official religion although the government does recognize a select number, namely Buddhism. China has the largest population in the world and India has the second largest. The two nations are geopolitical rivals striving for influence and power across the continent and the world. They share a common border which has seen its fair share of tension, and skirmishes. In 1962 a dispute over the sovereignty of the Aksai Chin region led to a full-fledged war between India and China. The border area remains a thorn in the sides of both nations. Needless to say, the Sino-Indian rivalry remains alive and well.
The United States is determined to continue to grow its relations with India and strengthen ties. This policy has been pursued by successive administrations going back to President Carter, with varying results. Given the track US-Indian relations appear to on now, it would seem that the Trump Administration is on the right track.
Thus far, the People’s Republic of China has dealt with minimal international blowback for its handling of the Hong Kong protests. Although most of the world is keenly aware of what has taking place there, the majority of governments, NGOs, and corporations have opted to turn a blind eye and await the return of the status quo. Beijing has continued to conduct business as usual with its allies, and trading partners as it tries to bring an end to the protests in the most non-violent, civil way possible. At least in the eyes of the world.
After yesterday, the blowback may not remain minimal for too much longer.
In Washington DC on Wednesday, President Trump signed legislation offering support for the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong and authorizing sanctions against PRC government officials responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong. Trump’s move represents the first significant international opposition to China’s actions in Hong Kong that the government has faced.
Not surprisingly, Beijing was furious, and concerned. The anger stemmed from Washington’s u-turn after five months of silence as Hong Kong became a warzone in some regards. China’s Foreign Ministry cautioned the United States against acting expeditiously, and warned that any consequences would be on Washington’s shoulders. The Foreign Ministry also framed the US legislation as interference with China’s internal affairs, and a violation of international law, as well as a breach of international relations etiquette.
The consequences mentioned above are almost certainly reference to US attempts to negotiate a trade deal with China and bring an end to the simmering trade war between the two economic superpowers. Beijing will certainly be looking to use the US legislation to its advantage, however, it could be facing its own set of consequences as a result of Washington’s latest move. The US legislation potentially opens the door for more Western governments to throw their support behind the protesters in Hong Kong. If this scenario comes to life it will test the Chinese government’s ability to end the uprising in Hong Kong on its own terms.
Iran has increased pressure on the European Union to help find a way around the strict US economic sanctions in place against it. Today, Iran announced it was knowingly violating more limitations set on its nuclear research by the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). A spokesman for Iran’s atomic energy agency announced that his nation is resuming work on advanced centrifuges despite the fact such activity is prohibited by the agreement. This is the third time in 2019 that Iran has broken the limits imposed in the agreement. Tehran claims the United States has violated the JCPOA by imposing sanctions on Iran. As a result, Iran is no longer abiding by the agreement. Tehran fails to mention the fact that the US renounced the agreement and walked away in 2015 and is no longer required to respect its terms.
Iran has been hoping European pressure on the US might help to lighten the sanctions which the Trump administration has levied. French President Emmanuel Macron had made a sincere effort to bring Iranian and the US leaders together to create a dialogue and reduce the current level of tension. However, President Trump has made it clear that the sanctions now in place will not be removed at the present time. Iran has responded by resuming work on centrifuges and announcing it publicly. Some observers, and analysts call it an attempt at blackmail, others view it as hardnosed diplomacy. The overall consensus seems to be that Iran’s primary concern is relieving the economic stress caused by sanctions, not resuming its nuclear program.
Vice Premier Liu He,China’s senior negotiator for trade has publicly announced that China is willing to resolve the trade dispute with the United States through negotiation. Liu also stated that his country opposes an escalation of the trade war now underway. The composed gesture coming from Beijing was answered by President Trump at the G-7 summit underway in France. Trump went as far as to predict that a trade deal will be reached with China at some point in the near future. It remains unclear whether today’s gestures reflect sincere intentions or if they are simply water on the fire. Last week’s wave of new US and Chinese tariffs sent global markets into spasms. Monday’s conciliatory words helped to calm markets, however, the current trade situation between the United States and China remains volatile.
Trade talks are expected to resume in Shanghai next month. Expectations will be high even though both Washington and Beijing will likely remain cautiously optimistic about the chance that further talks will bring an end to the trade war. Suffice to say, it would be in Beijing’s best interests to bring the trade matters to an end soon given what’s happening in Hong Kong, as well as recent issues in the South China Sea. China cannot move decisively in either area while the eyes of the world remain fixed on it. Beijing understands this, yet there are factions in the government that favor taking a harder line in the next round of trade discussions.
A North Korean weapons test earlier this weekend has raised questions and concerns about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s intentions regarding denuclearization, and the rut which US-North Korean negotiations appear to be caught in at the moment. Initial reports suggesting ballistic missiles were part of the test firing turned out to be false. South Korean military officials have confirmed that several multiple launch rocket projectiles were fired, including a new tactical guided weapon. Kim was on hand to witness the test, his presence suggesting it was intended to be seen as more than just a simple test firing.
Since Hanoi, negotiations on denuclearization have shown no progress. North Korea has renewed demands that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be excluded from negotiations. In late April, Kim made his first official trip to Russia, attempting to expand his international profile while at the same time sending a message to Washington. The US does not want to see North Korea and Russia growing closer and invariably opening the door for Vladimir Putin to disrupt negotiations.
The Trump administration continues to believe a denuclearization deal can be reached. This morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo supported President Trump’s position and reminded the world that this weekend’s North Korean weapons test did not pose a threat to South Korea, Japan, or the United States. The door is still open for North Korea, yet its apparent the Trump administration is not willing to wait indefinitely, and will not ease the strict economic sanctions currently in place.
North Korea is facing another growing problem. A food shortage is gripping the country following the worst harvest in over a decade. The current crisis is not approaching famine territory yet, however, in a matter of months this could change. It will be interesting to see how the deteriorating food situation will affect negotiations with the United States in the coming weeks. There’s a strong possibility that Washington’s patience could begin to wane if no progress is made soon.
Author’s Note: The next entry in the South China Sea series will come next Monday instead of tomorrow. Apologies for the abrupt change but the series will resume next week.