New Delhi: India and China’s relations are likely to plummet further in the New Year. To all the major issues and minor irritants dividing them has been added a new development quite out of India’s control and for which it cannot be held responsible. And this is Donald Trump’s inauguration on 20th January as the United States’ 45th President, and the strident anti-China line he brings to office.

This line has nothing to do with India. This has been already argued and analyzed by this writer in the Commentary called “The world of Trump” published on 5 December 2016. Trump’s imminent cold war with China with chances of a flare-up here and there will occur at the level of Great Powers where India is excluded but Russia is very much present. Russia and the United States have been drifting to pointless inimicality at least when they have a joint and pressing interest in neutralizing the Islamist threat from one western Asian extreme of Syria to Pakistan on the east. Trump seems to have seized on this commonsense and Vladimir Putin and he are likely to get along fine till the next great dispute between the United States and Russia breaks out.

Russia may not readily sunder ties with China which has supported and taxed Russia in its present isolation in the West over developments related to Crimea and the Ukraine. Putin’s Russia is likely to be in the same position as Mao Tse Tung’s China when Richard Nixon was making a tectonic Great Power shift in the early 1970s seeking friendship with the Chinese communist giant. Nixon was being blocked in detente by the Soviet leadership and he sought China as a counter balance. But by when Russia realized the gravity of the shift and made hectic attempts at rapprochement, the Nixon move with China was already too advanced to recall. Perhaps the Soviets could have no more than delayed the process by some months by accommodating Nixon with an early summit.

Nevertheless, Nixon’s move with China was not appreciated by subordinate levels of his administration, which is perhaps the problem Donald Trump will face seeking closer US-Russia ties in the present. The US backed the Chinese nationalists led by General Chiang Kai-shek. When he fled to Taiwan and mainland China fell to Mao’s communists, America became an implacable foe of the 1949 revolutionary government that took power in China. A year later, China fought the US in Korea. The seeds of distrust and enmity were deeply sown. When Richard Nixon moved contrary to all this contemporary history to befriend China, the bulk of the US government and the strategic community reacted with unease and obstructive tactics. Indeed, Nixon had scarcely made much progress with China when the Watergate scandal took him down. It was left to future administrations to carry forward Nixon’s legacy.

A repetition of this may occur when Donald Trump attempts to put behind Cold War and post-Cold War rivalries with Russia. Large sections of the US government are unhappy with this and resisting it. It will take many months if not more for Trump to establish long-term bridges with Putin’s Russia. Putin will adopt a wait and watch attitude not being sure how far Trump will go with his resolve. When the signals are firm and unvarying, Putin will effect a gentle break with China. China can hardly complain having conspired against Soviet Russia for the greatest part of the Cold War.

In all this period of uncertainty and waiting, China will hardly take it lying down. Through the controlled media, it has threatened Trump’s America of siding with its enemies. The threat to the One-China Policy has deeply shaken China. Since China is hardly likely to move against Russia so soon and advance the enmity, it will target those it perceives are America’s lesser or incipient allies and friends with who it has a history of troubles. India ideally fits the bill. The history of Sino-Indian disputes since the 1950s leading to the 1962 war and the abiding distrust and enmity since is too well-known to bear repetition in this piece. To all this, newer anxieties and frictions have added to further sour relations. To name just two of them, these are, firstly, the Indo-US nuclear deal, and, secondly, strengthening US-India strategic military ties, most recently advanced in another form by India’s designation as the US’s “major defence partner”.

Strengthening Indo-US relations have an indubitable bipartisan character. All the same, it is wise never to take for granted an incoming foreign government. India, therefore, will move with care and caution in the first few months of the new Donald Trump administration, and ensure that good relations of the immediate past are carried forward in whole. China may not have the sophistication to understand that Trump is moving against China entirely independent of India. It might take strengthening US-India ties at face value and lower the boom. If that does not happen, it is to the good. If it does, India oughtn’t to be surprised. It should be prepared with its responses. India, henceforth, must deal with China at two levels: On the first level of everything being business-as-usual, where rivalries and competition exceed cooperation and friendship but the relations haven’t entirely broken down. On a second level, it should be prepared for the worst. This writer trusts to relations with China getting testier than at present, when hostilities with Pakistan may also peak.

As they say: Hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.

Editor’s Note 1: Vegetable mandis are one of the last bastions of the cash hoarders. Mandi mafias are preventing vegetable vendors at the end of the supply chain from going cashless by refusing to migrate to a digital economy. Mega retailers like Big Bazaar should take the place of mandis and encourage cashless trade at sub-retail and still lower levels. Between these entities, profit-sharing can be easily accomplished. The back of black money hoarders has to be broken for demonetization to succeed and India to grow with higher tax receipts.

2. At far lower levels of pollution than Delhi, Paris imposed vehicle rationing. Pollution levels in Delhi have been uniformly “very poor” to “severe”. Every second person carries a respiratory infection and cures extend to several weeks. Why can’t the Supreme Court step in immediately and impose vehicle rationing?

Vehicle rationing, however, will only succeed at sustainedly lowering pollution levels if it is applied to all modes of transport, including scooters, motorcycles, cars, buses and trucks, and to all consumed fuels, including CNG. Vehicle rationing should be enforced as an emergency counter-pollution measure and not become another exercise in votebank politics, as the previous odd-even measures were. Exemptions must only be allowed to the President, the Vice-President, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justices and Judges of the Supreme and Delhi High Courts, and the Lieutenant-Governor and Chief Minister of Delhi, besides the police, fire department and other essential services.

It is no exaggeration to say that Delhi has become an open-air gas chamber.