US arms for India on China’s Trump talk list

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US arms sales to India and China-India border disputes are among the top six “sensitivities” senior Chinese officials have listed for the new Donald Trump administration, Michael Pillsbury, senior adviser to the US president, said in a conversation with TOI here. The US-China relationship in the Trump era will be of critical interest to India, affecting its own grand strategy.

Pillsbury, as a China expert and now an adviser to Trump, probably has the clearest view. “Six areas of outsized importance to President Xi Jinping and the ruling elite have been revealed,” Pillsbury said. The Chinese have never openly objected to India’s weapons purchases from the US or anyone. The fact that they would do so now is significant. “This and the South Korean missile shield are on their list,” he said.

The others are ‘One China policy’ and Taiwan, again in the area of weapons sales; Dalai Lama and the Tibet government in exile — China has asked that Trump not meet Dalai Lama. China is also nervous about the THAAD (terminal high altitude area defence) missile interceptors and SPY radar systems that the US has agreed to position in South Korea. Pillsbury said they would not like the US to add to these, which could neutralise China’s ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) capability that targets the US mainland.

“Whether President Trump supports India’s claim to Arunachal Pradesh and continues US arms sales to India already requested by PM Modi, now America’s largest customer of weapons, is another Chinese worry about the coming year,” Pillsbury said at the recent Raisina Dialogue. But China, Pillsbury said, would ideally like Trump to agree with its denial of the UNCLOS verdict on its South China Sea claims.

The new secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said in his Senate confirmation testimony that the US should even block China’s access to the artificial islands. Speaking exclusively to TOI, Pillsbury said, “The Chinese are optimistic (about Trump.) They think he is a businessman who has clear economic motives to make America great again and they believe they can help.”