DONALD Trump’s buffoonery and political naiveté has provided plenty of entertainment for much of the world in recent months.
But while the US president and former reality TV show host was navigating diplomatic landmines and setting off a few of his own, his counterpart over in Beijing, Xi Jinping, was busy cementing China’s role as potential global superpower and leader of the emerging world.
Taking advantage of Trump’s isolationist “America First” agenda, China has been making new friends.
Last week in Astana, China continued its purposeful march towards a new geopolitical world order when Pakistan and India were signed on as members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The inclusion of the two warring nuclear powers effectively made the SCO the largest international grouping in the world in terms of its coverage of the global population.
Trump plans to meet with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the first time, in Washington, on June 26. He aims to discuss “a new direction for deeper bilateral engagement” and ”consolidation of multi-dimensional strategic partnership”, according to Times of India.
But Xi, as pacesetter, is also pushing for improved bilateral ties with India, amid growing differences between his country and India over a host of issues, including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and India’s Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership bid. On the sidelines of the SCO summit, the Chinese leader and Modi met to discuss their country’s futures – it was their first meeting since India boycotted China’s Belt and Road forum last month.
Met President Xi Jinping. We spoke about India-China relations and how to further improve ties. pic.twitter.com/67aPIi6GFF
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 9, 2017
Will Modi accept China’s friendship or hold Trump’s hand? This decision now rests on Modi.
During the Astana summit, Xi in his speech mostly emphasised on international relationships.
“Regional integration and economic globalisation are the trends of our times,” he said.
“China stands for more exchanges and cooperation between the SCO and the United Nations and other international and regional organisations, in a joint effort to promote lasting peace and shared prosperity in the world,” he added.
Xi’s coercion strategy is setting off fear and trepidation among US leaders that China is fast gaining influence over America’s traditional allies. This concern was also witnessed recently when South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in decided, probably under the influence of China, to halt deployment of a US missile defense system, known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.
China, meanwhile, appears to be determined not to miss a single misstep by the Trump administration.
When Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on June 1, soon after, China waxed lyrical about its interest to fill America’s shoes on climate change.
Meredith Sumpter, a Washington-based Asia expert for the Eurasia group, said, “The Chinese Premier heading to Europe and standing with Angela Merkel in Germany just as President Trump was announcing the pullout of the Paris Climate accord — the timing could not have been more pointed.”
At the same time, Ely Ratner, a China specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, condemned Trump’s naiveté:
“I think the lack of US leadership, particularly on global issues like climate change and on trade and economic issues in the region, the withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), has clearly created a vacuum China is trying to fill.”
“Perceptions are what drive politics, so as long as the region perceives United States withdrawal and the emergence of Chinese leadership, the actual facts on the ground are a lot less important.”
These assertions aside, I personally think that accept it or not, China, whether opportunistic or altruistic in its soft power offensives, will be somewhat successful in affecting its desired shift in the world order.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent