Home >Opinion >Columns >Opinion | Do Beijing and Moscow actually want a Trump win?

The world is five months away from electing a new person or returning the incumbent US President Donald Trump to the democratic world’s most important job. While it is too soon to say if Trump will get a second term—his dismal rally at Tulsa, Oklahoma, being the latest indication of his losing grip—there’s nothing stopping an angry Trump from wrenching a second term any which way. He tweeted last week that the more people test for covid, the more cases would be found; that America had beaten the virus and jobs were back in the country. He also tweeted allegations of elections being rigged against him.

While accusing the Chinese of stealing American jobs, he also took to Twitter to say the US trade deal with China was intact and that he hoped Beijing would honour its promises. These are not signs of a leader riding a winning streak. Besides, Beijing does not have a history of honouring promises, as India is learning in Galwan Valley.

The long-distance slanging match between Beijing and Washington will be centred on trade, and the next director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) will most likely have to walk on eggshells between Beijing, Brussels and Washington.

Former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is emerging as a frontrunner for the top job at a time when the organization is in distress, not only because Trump has dealt it many blows, but also because the multilateral system it represents is now vulnerable. Nigeria is a new member of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s money-for-land and cash-for-poverty deal that it has struck with over 100 countries (as announced by Beijing) for developing self-serving infrastructure.

According to a recent report in The Guardian, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his predecessor Theresa May might have ignored claims that Russia had a “likely hold" over Trump. In evidence presented to lawmakers in the UK, former MI6 agent Christopher Steele said this information was not shared with Trump for fear of offending him. As the newspaper concluded, the Russia expert held that “a prospective trade deal should never be allowed to eclipse consideration of national security".

There are signs that suggest if China were to throw in a safety net for Trump, so will Russia. Both are large military powers and past masters in trade in good and bad times. In fact, both know how to work through economic boycotts. Between the election of the new director general of the WTO and the American election, geopolitics will be one straight line, with nations cutting deals as they eagerly wait to see if it is going to be Trump or quits at the White House.

Politics is the art of survival and nothing will benefit China more now than an incoherent Trump facing a serious push back in his country. Whether it is the protests that have erupted after the brutal murder of George Floyd or senior Republicans (George Bush, Colin Powell) turning their backs on him, it is clear that Trump has miles to go before he can breathe.

“This is one of those rare moments of uncertainty when it’s possible that the wall of Republican support sheltering Trump finally crumbles. It is still unlikely to happen, but as I’ve written before, if it does happen, it will happen suddenly," writes Lee Drutman in Five Thirty Eight, a well-regarded American data platform that uses statistics to explain elections, politics, sports and economics, among other things.

“Even before the protestors were driven away from the White House, we’d begun to hear a number of strong condemnations of both Trump and how he was handling the protests across the country—some from familiar corners and others from more surprising sources like military leaders," Drutman added.

By referring to the pandemic as “kung-flu", the US president has not earned friends.

Geopolitics teaches us that “geo" happens before it is politically understood. The geo is currently in near total disarray, with the pandemic still unabated in most countries. Even as some countries in Europe opened their borders last week, there was already talk of shutting them down should the situation worsen. There’s talk of a second wave of coronavirus infections, and vaccines will not be available to people before the end of the year, if that. Moreover, it’s far from clear if the millions of promised doses would be made available to all, as talk of equity and poverty remains just that—talk.

This is probably the first time in American elections that a public health issue has taken centre stage, and is likely to remain so till the last vote is cast.

From afar, it seems India could make quick gains during a time when politics is looking for a geo, but that is not the case. A belligerent China has stopped just short of war with India. But the situation remains unresolved, with both sides deploying troops along their borders.

Beijing remains interested in the Indian market, hoping to turn it into one that fits into its supply chain dynamics. It has also been eyeing the European Union, which has a far bigger market, and other parts of the world. For over a decade, China has been acquiring media platforms and international technology companies, and sewing up relationships with countries, never losing sight of the big prize—Washington.

If Trump wins, China wins. If Trump loses, China wins.

Chitra Subramaniam is an award-winning journalist and author

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