As Trump offers to mediate between India and China, Beijing counsels restraint


WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Wednesday offered to mediate between India and China over their “raging border dispute,” in another wild swing at diplomatic intervention in the region.

“We have informed both India and China that the United States is ready, willing and able to mediate or arbitrate their now raging border dispute. Thank you!” Trump said on Wednesday morning, in a flurry of tweets over a range of subjects amid raging civic unrest in the US following the purported murder of a black man by police in Minneapolis filmed in broad daylight.

The US President’s offer, dismissed or ignored in both China and India, surprised most observers given its timing – coming when Washington’s own ties with Beijing are fraught. The fact that Trump tweeted about it first thing in the morning – around 7.30 a.m. – suggested the issue must have featured in the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB), an intelligence assessment that is given to the President each morning.

In another sense, the Trump mediation offer was unsurprising given his penchant for random, off-the-cuff diplomatic swishes with barely any background or forethought on issues – such as with his repeated offer to mediate between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue, despite New Delhi’s known antipathy to third-party mediation of bilateral issues.

In fact, by one account Trump did not even know that India shared a border with China when he first met Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House. In the book “A Very Stable Genius: Donald J.Trump’s Testing of America,” Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig quote Trump telling Modi "It's not as though you have China right on your border..." prompting, they add, then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to cover part of his face with one hand so as to signal something to Modi without Trump seeing it.

According to the authors citing people familiar with the incident, “Modi’s eyes bulged out in surprise” at Trump’s remark and his “expression gradually shifted, from shock and concern to resignation.” One Trump aide concludes that Modi probably “left that meeting and said, ‘This is not a serious man. I cannot count on this man as a partner.’ ”

Trump has often dismissed such accounts as fake news and insists he is a genius blessed with foresight.

Both Indian and Chinese analysts took a dim view of Trump’s offer, some viewing it as ploy to sell more U.S arms to India. “There is a longstanding Himalayan border dispute. But what has unfolded now is Chinese aggression across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India. Instead of offering to "mediate or arbitrate," Trump ought to be condemning China's change of status quo,” Brahma Chellaney, a security analyst, tweeted.

Chinese analysts see it differently, accusing India of trying to change the status quo with border incursions, believing Beijing is in the international doghouse because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Some Indians believe slowed Chinese economy growth and some Western countries' blame game on China provide them a great opportunity where the border issue will fall to their advantage amid the Covid-19 pandemic. However, this speculative mind-game is based on an incorrect judgment of the international order and China's national condition. This is flawed logic and ultimately detrimental to India,” the Global Times, a Chinese government mouthpiece, said in an oped, warning that “If India failed to stop such provocations as soon as possible, it will impact on Beijing-New Delhi ties - and may even exceed the sort of intensity of the Doklam standoff.”

“Although a handful of Indian media outlets and social organizations echo the Trump administration's views, the Indian government should keep a sober head to not be used as cannon ash by the US,” the oped said, adding, “Hopefully, the Indian government, military, scholars and media will improve their understanding and research on China. As an ancient civilization, India is wise enough to avoid understanding China through biased US lens.”

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