NEW DELHI: US arms sales to India and China-India border disputes are among the top six “sensitivities” senior Chinese officials have listed for the new Donald Trump administration, Michael Pillsbury, senior adviser to the US president, said in a conversation with Times of India. The US-China relationship in the Trump era will be of critical interest to India.
Pillsbury, as a China expert and now an adviser to Trump, probably has the clearest view. “Six areas of outsized importance to President Xi Jinping and the ruling elite have been revealed,” Pillsbury said. The Chinese have never openly objected to India’s weapons purchases from the US or anyone. The fact that they would do so now is significant. “This and the South Korean missile shield are on their list,” he said.
The others are ‘One China policy’ and Taiwan, again in the area of weapons sales; Dalai Lama and the Tibet government in exile, China has asked that Trump not meets Dalai Lama. China is also concerned about the THAAD (terminal high altitude area defence) missile interceptors and SPY radar systems that the US has agreed to a position in South Korea. Pillsbury said they would not like the US to add to these, which could neutralise China’s ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) capability that targets the US mainland.
“Whether President Trump supports India’s claim to Arunachal Pradesh and continues US arms sales to India already requested by PM Modi, now America’s largest customer of weapons, is another Chinese worry about the coming year,” Pillsbury said at the recent Rising Dialogue. But China, Pillsbury said, would ideally like Trump to agree with its denial of the UNCLOS verdict on its South China Sea claims.
Pillsbury said, “The Chinese are optimistic (about Trump.) They think he is a businessman who has clear economic motives to make America great again and they believe they can help.”
Two advisers to Trump, Alexander Gray and Peter Navarro, have written what is cited as an important article in the international affairs journal ‘Foreign Policy’ on Trump’s Asia-Pacific policy, which they described as “peace through strength”. Pillsbury said, “The piece by Gray and Navarro was officially approved by the Trump campaign. So it’s quite important.” Gray and Navarro say Trump will not a sacrificeUS economy on the altar of foreign policy by getting into trade deals like TPP, and secondly, Trump will rebuild the US military to be unchallenged.
Asked about Trump’s possible policy in this region, Pillsbury said he would be “unpredictable”. “He wants the Chinese, in particular, to believe that he is unpredictable. That is his negotiating strategy.” What does he think are China’s intentions?