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Will China bashing help Asian Americans to vote for Trump?

If the mood among Indians in America is pro-Hindu nationalism back home, they could be easily drawn to Trump

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Updated: November 04, 2020 03:17 AM GMT
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Will China bashing help Asian Americans to vote for Trump?

A voter casts his ballot at a polling station on US election day in Winchester, Virginia, on Nov. 3 as President Donald Trump seeks to beat forecasts and defeat challenger Joe Biden. (Photo: AFP)

It's a case of diplomatic billiards. You travel across Asia and Africa, hit out at China and presume the voters in America will be influenced to give Donald Trump a second chance to be the world's most powerful man.

That is one way of summing up the travails of Mike Pompeo, a trusted aide of President Trump and secretary of state, who recently had a diplomatic sojourn hopping from one capital to another in Asian nations.

"We see from bad deals, violations of sovereignty and lawlessness on land and sea that the Chinese Communist Party is a predator, and the United States comes differently ... we come as a friend and as a partner," Pompeo told a televised news conference in Sri Lanka on Oct. 28. He also made similarly strong comments against China in New Delhi a day earlier.

Of course, in any election, the numbers count. As many as 4.7 percent of the American electorate in this week's polls will be ethnically Asian, the highest ever. The number of eligible Asian American voters grew by a staggering 139 percent between 2000 and 2020.

So, why blame the Trump-Pompeo duo and their diplomatic-political strategy?

In a way, it could be going a step beyond what Pompeo said in New Delhi during his Oct. 26-27 trip.

Pompeo had told media in New Delhi that US leaders and citizens "see with increasing clarity that the Chinese Communist Party is no friend to democracy, the rule of law, transparency ... I am glad to say India and the US are taking all steps to strengthen cooperation against all threats and not just those posed by the CCP."

Being in India and Asia, and yet campaigning for Donald Trump for the do-or-die presidential polls, seem to be the priority for two top US policymakers — Pompeo and US defense chief Mark Esper.

In July, a survey by Pew Research Centre claimed 73 percent of Americans hold a negative view toward China. But as happens with all elections, will these translate into votes for Trump?

Faced with stiff competition from the Democrats, Trump has certainly made his China bashing a key part of his campaign to secure a second term against Joe Biden. Trump has also tried to use his friendship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his re-election bid.

In the process, things have turned favorable to India, which has a vexed boundary issue with China. The crisis was aggravated in June when 20 of its soldiers were martyred.

But unlike India, Sri Lanka is known as a close ally of China. But Pompeo was on his mission, nevertheless. The US line is that development and infrastructure projects assisted by Chinese funding in the island nation will benefit China more than Sri Lanka.

Last week Pompeo also traveled to Indonesia and the Maldives — two other strategically significant nations where Beijing has a growing influence. Maritime issues and China's alleged bully policies would figure in Pompeo's engagements in Maldives and Indonesia.

But how much do the Asian voters in America matter? What is the wisdom behind American leaders giving a tough message to China overseas and trying to pass a convincing message back home to the American voters?

The intent is clear. The Chinese Communist Party is "not a force for good" and that most countries globally, if not all, realize the Chinese fault line, especially in the context of Beijing's questionable role in spreading the "Wuhan virus".

But can this rhetoric revolving around gimmicks really influence American voters?

Attacking China or any other foreign country in the run-up to the US polls is nothing unusual. Trump's predecessors have attacked the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and the likes of Saddam Hussein. It is a tactic to score political brownie points.

But the Western media has been quite critical of Pompeo's diplomacy. For instance, The Guardian said: "Forget Putin, it's meddling by America's evangelical enforcer [Pompeo] that should scare us."

Pompeo wears many hats besides being Trump's man for overseas policies. He is an army veteran, a former top intelligence officer and, of course, an eloquent orator.

Some Indians remain skeptical but give mixed signals. A former minister in the Congress party and now a member of the ruling BJP says: "Diplomatically, both India and the US are committed to closer ties. When it comes to the US presidential polls, we take no sides. But come to debate about Pompeo's anti-China message from India, we like it. US diplomacy would succeed even if the political campaign for Trump could fail."

Of course, these words make sense in India as, no matter who wins, the Modi government will continue to reach out to Washington soon after the polls.

In Delhi, Pompeo and Esper have fructified a few crucial and long-term agreements, including the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), a key component in intelligence sharing.

The opposition camp in Delhi asks why Prime Minister Modi has to hurry up with these pacts. Heaven would not have fallen had they been inked a month or so later. So a query remains: is Modi committing his part for the US presidential elections?

The Indian PM addressed a "Howdy Modi" rally in Houston in September 2019. Despite the Covid-19 threats and Hindu-Muslims riots in Delhi, Trump visited India in February 2020 for the "Namaste India" event. All these were linked to US elections.

Indian media also had a full-steam debate on the nomination of Kamala Harris, whose mother is a migrant Indian, as the Democrats' vice president candidate. The debate was whether Democrats sway substantial votes of Asian Americans against Republican President Trump.

There is of course something common between Modi and Trump. Both these leaders are known for a controversial but open anti-Muslim stance.

BJP lawmaker Rajeev Chandrashekhar argues in favour of the merits in the Modi-Trump bond. "We are talking about shaping the post-Covid world. This will not be confined to security. It will be about economy and technology as well," he said.

According to some commentators in India, this one factor could influence many voters of Indian origin to back Trump. If the mood among Indians in America is pro-Hindu nationalism back home, they could be easily drawn towards Trump and stay away from Democrats who are more often projected as those fighting Trump's anti-Muslim policies. At least this is what Trump's team believes.

The Chinese-American animosity is linked to disputes between China and its smaller neighbors in the South China Sea. Beijing is in conflict with the Modi regime in Delhi.

There are other disputes over the coronavirus, trade, Taiwan, Tibet and the Chinese attempt to suppress the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. Beijing is in conflict with the Modi regime in Delhi.

We will soon know if the game of billiards Pompeo played using smaller Asian nations helped Trump somehow.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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