New Delhi: The United States has declared a trade war on China. This war could also become a shooting war in the South China Sea and move on a separate trajectory to “liberate” Taiwan from Mainland China. Donald Trump has decided to make the hard line John Bolton as national security advisor. Bolton is the sort who shoots first and thinks later. As long as James Mattis is the secretary of defence, and another retired general with some commonsense, John F. Kelly, restrains major follies on the part of Donald Trump as his White House chief of staff, Bolton may not be able to run away with his crazy ideas about North Korea, Iran and the Middle East. But since you cannot make any predictions about Trump, Mattis and Kelly may go the way of Rex Tillerson and others. This would leave Donald Trump with really no one else to guide him on geopolitics except John Bolton, who is all too eager to start World War III. All this begs the question of whose side India should take in the coming US-China trade conflict and worse. The simple and straightforward answer is: No one’s side except its own.

In what follows, this writer will keep out of the public domain some of his sensitive calculations for keeping neutral between the United States and China. These calculations do not apply immediately so nothing is lost by not revealing them. There is another reason for being secretive. Geopolitically, the Narendra Modi government is the most bloody-minded of all the governments at the Centre since independence. It displays no subtlety or intelligence. It cannot think strategically and plan for the long-term. It has no vision and possesses an exaggerated sense of India’s power and capabilities. The Narendra Modi government has set India adrift in both geo-economics and geopolitics. Keeping India insulated from US-China skirmishes is the only advice worth proffering to this atrocious government. Another government at the Centre would be better-deserving and well-equipped as well to receive plans and strategies for a region split between the United States and China.

As things stand, the initial advantage at least belongs to China in the manner Donald Trump desires to prosecute the conflict. It is a trade conflict and not a real war although it could become one if the likes of John Bolton have their way. Its difference from the Cold War must be established promptly. The Cold War was a war of ideologies. The West feared subversion and destruction of its civilization from revolutions commanded and controlled by the Kremlin. Similar fear led to the emergence of a multinational coalition against Napoleon Bonaparte. Western Europe does not fear China to the same extent that the United States does. Indeed, it is possible to argue that the United States does not fear China as much as Donald Trump does. It is even conceivable to postulate that Trump does not fear China but that he perceives better re-election chances if he is seen to bell the Chinese cat of no colour and considerable mice-catching skills as Deng Xiaoping bred it. Western Europe did not support America’s Vietnam War at the height of the Cold War. Western Europe loathes Donald Trump. It is highly unlikely that it would despatch expeditionary forces against China.

And for what? To protect trade interests? This is not the 19th century or even the early 20th. If China makes strategic trade concessions to Western Europe, it would destroy what little appetite remains to take on China. The first all-important consideration of war is to choose the war to prosecute. Pearl Harbour is not under attack nor is China going the way of Imperial Japan on an insane colonizing spree. Confucianism does not threaten to undermine US democracy. In point of fact, Donald Trump is on the friendliest term with the chief saboteur of the 2016 US presidential election, Vladimir Putin. The air of unreality about the looming US-China skirmish over trade almost lends the impression that feared tensions will fizzle shortly. But if Donald Trump, John Bolton & Co. really want a war, India should keep away. The rationale for staying put is secret for now.