New Delhi: Donald Trump has surprised the world or at least upended diplomatic conventions by taking on China weeks prior to his formal inauguration as President of the United States. What does it tell about the incoming President? How should India negotiate the new normal of international turbulence that would most likely mark the next four years of the Trump presidency?

The elephant in the room for any American President is China. The President before Barack Obama, George W. Bush, commenced on a grim note with China, when its mercantilist policies had become alarming, and its currency manipulation had acquired acute proportions. But Bush’s political economic agenda was shattered by the 9/11 attacks, and he ended his first term thankful for any support obtained from China in containing Islamist terrorism and stabilizing the Af-Pak region.

Barack Obama started on a gentler and friendlier note with China, continuing the legacy of Richard Nixon who broke the ice with the totalitarian giant after decades of suspicion and animosity following the Korean War when Chinese and American troops fought on opposing sides. For all his pains, the Chinese showed disrespect to Obama, interpreting his bonhomie as a sign of weakness. China worships power. It respects diplomacy that advances power. Anything outside that narrow framework is scorned and ridiculed. Obama’s final trip to China for the G-20 Summit was a disaster. He was almost prevented from disembarking from his presidential jet. He had to use the plane’s own back staircase to make way to the Summit.

It is not clear if all this was on President-elect Donald Trump’s mind when he unprecedentedly spoke to the Taiwan President and set the cat among the pigeons in Beijing. China saw this as a challenge to the one-China policy accepted by the United States in 1979 and which the Obama administration reemphasized after the Trump-Tsai Ing-wen conversation. Not to be stopped, Trump tweeted tauntingly of large US-Taiwan arms sales, Chinese currency manipulation and high tariffs on American goods, and the Chinese militarization of the South China Sea.

By a curious coincidence, Henry Kissinger was meeting the Chinese leadership in the midst of the Trump tweets. It is not clear if Kissinger was on a mission for Trump or freelancing. Kissinger did make soothing noises and the Chinese after an initial angry outburst await Trump’s formal inauguration to take proper measure of his foreign policy. It does not, however, portend to be a happy situation for China.

Under Trump, it will not be business-as-usual for China. Trump sees few common interests with China and has little regard for the present world order where American greatness is being attenuated on a daily basis. If he sees a two-China policy as being able to boost American global power, he will embrace it. All the Kissingers of the world cannot make him change his mind. Indeed, Kissinger would have been happier if Hillary Clinton had been elected.

Strategic analysts have only noted Trump’s pre-inauguration intervention on China. But he has shown equal resolve in keeping US manufacturing on US soil. He has vowed punishing taxes on outsourcing manufacturing and he has every intention of walking the talk. Trump is serious to make America great once more. That is what he was elected for. He will do anything and everything to restore pride of place to America in the world and he will determinedly take on China if it suits US interests. The Chinese should have no further doubts.

Is China’s loss with the US India’s gain? Not really, or at least, not automatically. China has challenged the United States in the league of Great Powers which also includes Russia but not presently India. The US-Chinese equation under Trump will directly affect Russia, and if Vladimir Putin is smart, he will go to whoever offers the best deal. It appears that the United States has more to offer to Russia while China is only exploiting Russia’s isolation in the West post Crimea.

India, perhaps, will not directly gain from US-China friction but it will definitely draw collateral benefits. A serious and sustained correction of Chinese global power will give some extra pivot room to India against sub-continental adversaries. It will also provide the added assistance to India’s rise as a global power. Since some of these moves will also be accompanied by US retrenchment from certain theatres, India would have to become more independent in its pursuit of global power. It will be left more to its own devices as the US repairs itself and this presents opportunities without precedent to India. A strategic alliance with Japan in the circumstances looks ever more desirable.

After Donald Trump’s inauguration, the old certainties will recede and international relations will be thrown in greater ferment than before. Whether or not Trump is a disrupter, he will increasingly embrace disruption to set the American home in order. The post-Cold War world has suddenly become a riskier place with Donald Trump in charge. There will be no mega war. But peace will emerge in the most confounding colours and challenging forms. India must get used to change as the only constant in the world of Donald Trump.