If Trump’s election may bring the war in Europe to a close, an election in Asia, many fear, could see a global war, writes Mihir Bose
Image the scenario. It is November 2024 and Donald Trump is back in the White House. Yes, much of the world does not want such a result and he may not even win the popular vote in America, as he did not when he won the Presidency in 2016 but still got to sit in the Oval Office because of the absurd Electoral College system that the Americans have for electing their President. But, however, he gets there he is there. If that happens Volodymyr Zelensky and Ukraine have reason to worry.
The reason is Trump will almost certainly cut off the military aid that Joe Biden has provided in such large measure to Ukraine. The Republicans in Congress have made it very clear they do not think the US should be providing such military support. And without that it is hard to see how Zelensky and his beleaguered country can resist their big bad wolf of a neighbour. In any case given the well-advertised friendship between Trump and Putin, recall all that was said about how Putin helped Trump win in 2016, it is not hard to see that a Trump America will lean towards Russia not Ukraine.
The result of that will definitely be that the Ukrainian President, despite all that he has said, will have to come to the table to negotiate a deal for his country, one which will, probably, see Ukraine shrink if not become a vassal state of Russia. It could become the 21st century version of what Finland was under Stalin and the Soviet Union. Nominally independent but not really ever able to challenge the Soviet Union. Then, recall, Finlandization was what the West feared would be the fate of many of the European countries if the Soviet Union was not restrained.
But if Trump’s election may bring the war in Europe to a close an election in Asia, many fear, could see a global war. That election is the one in Taiwan. With the leader of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party President Tsai, having been in power for two terms, not able to stand, it opened the door for vice-President William Lai. He said in one of his rallies, “The whole world is watching.” What they are watching is whether China will invade Taiwan, a fear that has grown as China has made increasingly belligerent noises that Taiwan has always belonged to China. Although neither Tsai or Lai talked about independence the fact is Taiwan is an island state, with its own armed forces and, much to Beijing’s chagrin, a thriving democracy which was demonstrated during the election. There can be no doubt how all this angers China with the Beijing defence ministry declaring that the People’s Liberation Army was “on high alert at all times” and will “smash” any move towards independence.
It is curious to see how there are similarities between Ukraine and Taiwan. In the run-up to his invasion of Ukraine Putin wrote a long, rambling, essay, which many historians thought had no historical justification, arguing that Ukraine was never an independent state and belonged to Russia.
The Chinese have always claimed that Taiwan belongs to China and, interestingly, the US has always endorsed such an idea, for thirty years in an absurd fashion. When in 1949 America’s client, Chiang Kai-Shek, fled mainland China after Mao’s forces won the civil war, America supported Chiang’s claim that Taiwan was part of China. The US blocked the People’s Republic from taking its seat in the UN Security Council with the result that Taiwan, claiming to represent mainland China, occupied the seat. This suited US very well as it meant its lackey Taiwan would always follow US orders and vote for it. In Taiwan such was the belief that it was part of China that when there were deaths in a coal mine accident in China, the Taiwanese minister was taken to task in the Taiwan parliament for not doing anything about it.
The US continued with its idiotic policy until Richard Nixon made his historic visit to China in 1972, ending a quarter of century of no-communication with China and met Mao. It was only in 1979, 30 years after the People’s Republic had been formed, that US had full diplomatic relationships with China. It is worth recalling that the when the US recognized the People’s Republic of China it de-recognised Taiwan and stated that the People’s Republic of China was “the sole legal Government of China.” It was clear this meant Taiwan could not claim to be a sovereign country. True, US did not accept Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan but instead acknowledged the Chinese position that Taiwan was part of China. The US also made it clear that it believed in a one China policy.
Of course all this was based on the understanding that China for all its belligerent noises would not invade Taiwan. But should China now follow its war-like noises with unleashing its forces this could see a more devastating war with far greater implications for the world than the Ukraine war.
2024 will of course see other elections which should not lead to war but could prove quite dramatic in its own way. They are the ones in Britain and its former colony India.
In Britain the question is whether the Conservatives led by a British Hindu can win another election. Elections they say are decided by pocket book issues. People vote because of how much money they have. Rishi Sunak may well try and make people feel they are doing well with a Budget that cuts taxes and provides other sweeties but the feeling in the country seems to be they have had enough of the Tories. Such a feeling is important. Sometimes voters do not care for how well off they are but various other issues. In America Joe Biden has been struggling against Trump despite the fact that during his Administration the economy has done well and people are better off.
Yet a Labour victory should not be taken for granted. It may have a 20 point lead but Keir Starmer just does not convince and the Tories are not for nothing known as the most successful democratic party in the history of the world. They know how to win elections. Labour in contrast often promise but do not deliver. We shall have to see whether this British election will be 1992 or 1997.
Another Hindu, Narendra Modi, should have no problems winning a third term. When Modi came to power I was told by one of his supporters that he would not bother so much about the Hindu “business” but the real business of making India prosperous. But he has bothered a great deal about the Hindu business. He can claim he has delivered on this front in particular the Ram Mandir now emerging in Ayodhya. A third term could see India move away from its secular heritage towards becoming a truly Hindu state. That would be a dramatic change and, in many ways, the Indian Hindu’s triumph would have far greater consequences than the triumph of the British Hindu.
(Mihir Bose is the author of Narendra Modi-The Yogi of Populism.) @mihirbose