Will Joe Biden keep up the pressure on China?
United States (US) Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo stirred up some strategic affairs experts last week both in India and the US with his call for a “new grouping of like-minded countries — an alliance of democracies” to confront China. This was a clear message to India, they said, and other nations: Stand up to China’s bullying and sign up to this new grouping.
Some of them went further and suggested joint military exercises with the US along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Drastic. But it’s time perhaps for even more. There is frustration in New Delhi at the slow pace of the disengagement talks, stuck between “status quo ante” and “status quo”.
Pompeo didn’t explain then what he had in mind for this grouping. So there was speculation it could be something like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) that took on the erstwhile Soviet Union. Or maybe an altogether different platform. When asked at a Senate hearing on Thursday, Pompeo said he wasn’t certain what shape or form it could take. It is still unclear. It may not, however, be without reason that Pompeo did not have an answer, yet. Because there are no guarantees the US will continue down this path after November 3, when America will vote to either give President Donald Trump another four years in the White House or elect his Democratic challenger Joe Biden, the former vice-president.
Will Trump continue the escalation of tensions if he wins? He started the China blitz, as is widely acknowledged by his experts and his critics, only to shift blame for his own mishandling of the Covid-19 outbreak in the US, which has the most cases and deaths from the pandemic in the world. And on his watch.
Almost two-thirds — 61% — of Americans disapprove of Trump’s response to the epidemic, according to an AP poll. But even more Americans — 64% — disapprove of China’s handling of the outbreak. And still more Americans — 73% — hold a negative view of China, up by seven points in the last four months, according to a new Pew report. Attacking China at this time, therefore, makes a lot of political sense.
But with a second term in the bag — if that happens — after November 3, will Trump keep up the pressure on China? He has been inconsistent on China. Trump was in a swoon about President Xi Jinping before and had praised his handling of the outbreak before the virus ran amuck in the US. New Delhi understands that, as is evident from its muted response to Pompeo’s speech.
But as it considers the Trump-Pompeo plan, with all its ramifications, it keenly waits to hear from Biden, who could be the next president, according to many polls. The Democrats are less likely to have an unfavourable view of the Chinese than the Republicans — 35% to 54%, according to the Pew poll — and they may not be as keen to blindly go along with the aggressive intent of Pompeo’s plan.