By M.R. Josse
NEW YORK, NY: U.S. President Donald Trump last week left a larger-than-life footprint on world arena and demonstrated the pre-eminent position that the United States of America occupies on the global stage.
For starters, with 20 steps and a handshake, the American head of state became the first sitting president to enter North Korea, a historic original. Indeed, following a 50-minute private meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Freedom House in South Korea, he announced another diplomatic ‘first’: an invitation for Kim to visit the United States – “when the time is right.”
After those parleys, the unpredictable Trump stepped into North Korean territory saying that crossing the North-South boundary was a “great honor”. A patently pleased Kim called the event of great “significance because it means that we want to bring an end to the unpleasant past” and called it a “courageous and determined act.”
Just 24 hours earlier, from Japan, Trump had made a surprise announcement on Twitter saying he could meet Kim at the DMZ, “just to shake his hand and say hello.”
That Trump’s sudden move was more than a mere photo op was suggested when, in the wake of the private bilateral talks, Trump disclosed that America would be employing a designated team to start work on new negotiations in the next few weeks, and that North Korea would have a team, as well.
While the jury is still out on the global impact of the Trump demarche, that it set the cat among the pigeons among the many contending Democratic hopefuls couldn’t be plainer.
As much can be gleaned from comments such as those by the leading Joe Biden campaign accusing Trump of “coddling” dictators “at the expense of America’s national security.” Another specimen reaction was that of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren who accused Trump of “squandering American influence on photo-ops and exchanging love letters with a ruthless dictator.”
Another illustrative comment, if a softer one, came from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who said that he had “no problem” with Trump’s meeting with Kim, but went on to say “we need to move forward diplomatically and not just have photo ops.”
Whether planned that way or not, even the G-20 2019 summit in Osaka, Japan was seemingly or virtually overshadowed by Trump’s brief North Korean caper that came on its heels.
While in Japan before the annual G-20 tamasha opened, Trump created serious diplomatic turbulence by, for instance, excoriating three key allies. He lambasted the America-Japan (or Japan) pact, while lashing out at Germany and India before sitting down with them to talk through differences on issues like security and trade.
Vis-à-vis Japan, Trump complained against existing Treaty provisions, thus: if the United States were attacked, Japan would “only watch it on Sony television.” On Fox News, he said: “If Japan is attacked we will fight World War III. We will go in and we will protect them with our lives and our treasure. We will fight at all costs.”
He called Germany a security freeloader and criticized India for raising tariffs on American goods. Interestingly, Trump said nothing critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government, according to American intelligence accounts, alleges Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
But like him or loathe him, the world governments and the media seemingly couldn’t get enough of Trump. Thus, if considerable adverse limelight was shed on such Trumping moves as the lavishing of praise on Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, widely perceived as the master-mind of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal slaying in Turkey in October last year, the 80-minute America-China palavers on the margins of the G20 2019 Osaka summit attracted pointed international attention on trade and security grounds.
It underlined, be it only indirectly, that America-China relations is without doubt the most important bilateral relationship in the world today. That meeting, incidentally, was apparently not viewed merely as a photo op – as one of its important outcomes was the calling of a U.S.- China trade truce. At the very least, it appeared to avert, even if only for the moment, an escalation of their multi-billion dollar tariff war.
During the lead up to Osaka, 2018; Trump’s substantive talks with China’s President Xi Jinping; his official visit to South Korea; not to mention that ‘historic’ meeting with Kim Jong Un at the Korean DMZ, tensions between Trump and the Iranian authorities did not calm down but actually spiked.
In fact, while there was an atmosphere of bravado in Tehran following Trump’s rescinding his initial order for military strikes on three targets, in the wake of Iran’s downing an American military surveillance drone, world attention swung from sanctions for that action to the larger, more complex and fast-intensifying showdown over containing Iran’s nuclear programme: Trump’s ultimate and similar goal vis-à-vis North Korea nuclear weapons and intentions, where he seems to have adopted a very different approach.
While still on Trump and America’s inordinate importance, one took cognizance of the fact that despite Herculean efforts of the Indian media to exaggerate the significance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s presence and influence at the Osaka summit, it was quite evident that India is not in the same league as the U.S., China, Russia, and Japan.
The Wall Street Journal reporting on Pompeo’s recent visit to New Delhi, said that top U.S. and Indian officials acknowledged that a tariff dispute and the threat of
U.S. sanctions over India’s planned purchase of a Russian weapon system remain unresolved.
A Hindustan Times story from Washington was most absorbing. This concerned a recent decision by the 55-member ‘Asia-Pacific’ group in the UN unanimously endorsing India’s bid for membership to a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2021-22.
Clearly, an ‘Indo-Pacific’ region is not universally recognized. It is a political notion designed to advance a specific geopolitical agenda. Here, however, India seems quite content with an ‘Asian-Pacific’ fit.