As noted in Tiff’s Trump Tweets yesterday, President Trump has offered to mediate between India and China in their long-standing border conflict. She quoted the Guardian’s reporting on accusations of China expanding their troop presence in the area and expanding a regional military airbase.
The results of his offer are instructive, and uniformly negative.
Let’s begin with the President himself. The offer he made demonstrates that, contrary to the way his supporters envision him, President Trump is oblivious to the most rudimentary aspects of successful negotiation.
The United States has a long history of being a mediator in international conflicts. President Carter produced the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel. President George H.W. Bush brought both Israel and the PLO to the table, getting no final agreement but proving in the process that the only peace the PLO would accept was the death of Israel. President Clinton successfully negotiated an end to hostilities in Northern Ireland. In every one of these cases, mediation was only possible because both sides felt that the United States could be an honorable and fair arbiter, even if they tended to favor one of the sides in the dispute. This is about as basic as negotiations get: two claimants are not going to agree to use a judge who is clearly biased.
President Trump is mercurial and unreliable, but he does have a history. That history suggests that China is able to curry favor with him by praising him, intervening with North Korea on his behalf and granting his daughter valuable trademarks, but also that Trump will not be sated by such tactics and will publicly attack China whenever the support of his base begins to slip. He has been doing so in recent weeks and only yesterday his State Department officially recognized that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous, signalling active hostility between China and the United States. Meanwhile, in recent months he has repeatedly praised Indian Prime Minister Modi. This presents a situation where Trump is obviously biased in favor of India. China will reject him.
Despite the obvious favor of China in this circumstance, Indian leaders also would be very unlikely to accept the offer. The US has been offering to negotiate a dispute between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir region since last year, but has been consistently rejected both out of a sense of national sovereignity and because of the perception that the US may favor Pakistan rather than act as an honest broker. While Trump’s bias would be for India in this instance, the country is unlikely to set a precedent which could be used to pressure them to accede to Pakistani demands in the future.
The move also demonstrates to the rest of the world that Trump is a clear danger to international peace. China and India are threatening open conflict. An intermediary is needed, and there are valid options. Many countries are currently demonstrating firm and friendly relations with the conflicting nations… the UK is the most obvious example. By attempting to inject himself into the middle of things Trump risks damaging the chances of valid mediators to negotiate a peace. Other world leaders recognize this.
Lastly, even making the offer is seen as insulting to many on China’s leadership. They are being asked to put their faith in someone who repeatedly vilifies them, and are being asked to take a subservient position at a time when Chinese influence is demonstrably on the rise. With the moves China is making against Hong Kong, providing an excuse to accuse the United States of simple revenge is a gift to their rulers.
It’s the latest catastrophic foreign policy decision from a President who has made dozens of them. His fans will cheer him anyway, believing that posturing will reflect well upon the country no matter what damage may be done to our reputation, State Department negotiations over Hong Kong, or the peace process.