As US Vice-President Mike Pence’s visit to Israel approaches, the Western and Arab comments on US President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem declaration remain critical. Many are hostile and some abusive. But how did the non-Muslim countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, home to two-thirds of the world’s population react? While they may soon vote otherwise under enormous Muslim pressure in the United Nations, their first reactions are a sure indication of their feelings.
Three conclusions stand out: • The global, non-Western and non-Muslim resonance of Trump’s speech was massive.
• America’s power, and President Trump’s influence beyond the Western world, remains huge. The denigration of Trump by Western politicians and liberal media does not give a comprehensive picture of America’s international standing.
• The perceived link between the US and Israel works to Israel’s advantage when America is popular, to Israel’s disadvantage when it is not.
China and India, the two giants of rising Asia, are the most important players on the global, non-Western chess board.
In China, Trump’s speech may have reinforced – or revealed – a policy shift, namely a closer political embrace of the Muslim world, without denting China’s support for academic, scientific, technological and cultural links with Israel.
There was extensive coverage and unusually sharp condemnation of Trump’s policy change in China’s media – always a reflection of what China’s leaders are thinking. Also, official statements repeated China’s unconditional support for Palestinian aspirations regarding independence, borders and east Jerusalem. China feared that great violence would follow Trump’s speech, and this would, as The South China Morning Post so candidly admits, “disrupt its [China’s] investment plans in the region.”
In fact, China’s “One Belt One Road” initiative that covers the Eurasian land mass with a web of roads, harbors, railway lines, etc., depends on the cooperation of dozens of countries, many of them Muslim. Hence, for the Chinese, America’s strength may be reduced but could still suffice to derail, indirectly, China’s most important multinational project.
India’s reaction was radically different.
It was, in fact, a well-studied non-reaction: “India’s position on Palestine is independent and consistent.
It is shaped by our views and interests, and not shaped by any third country.” A masterpiece of diplomatic obfuscation that mentions neither Trump nor Jerusalem.
A few Indian writers who protested against India’s “deafening silence” or called India and Israel “two Islamophobic regimes” saw it right: India moved one step further away from Palestine.
But the critics omitted the most beneficial side-effect of India’s official silence: India’s 200 million Muslims did not move. No violence was reported, in contrast to Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia after their governments excoriated Trump. Reactions of the third Asian great power, Japan, had a lot in common with India, not with China.
Severe tensions with North Korea are calling for the closest possible coordination with the US. Japan could not join the European and liberal American Trump-bashing bandwagon even had it wanted to – and it didn’t want to.
Pressed by journalists, Japan’s foreign minister uttered a time-honored Japanese translation of “get lost”: “Tokyo is monitoring the situation with great interest.”
Sub-Saharan Africa is split. Muslim politicians and South Africa slammed Trump, but no violence or major demonstrations were reported as in the Muslim world. However, non-Muslim, often Christian politicians and writers are expressing sympathy for the US or Israel.
Such voices can be heard from Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana, Tanzania and South Sudan. Seventy-two percent of Kenyans polled express support for the US, and 69% of Ghanaians.
Israel benefits from this sympathy, as it benefits from its own increased outreach to many African countries.
Latin America is split too, even more deeply. The three most important countries, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, barely reacted. Brazil is in economic and political crisis and needs America’s help. Asked why Brazil did not condemn Trump, its foreign minister replied: “Brazil prefers to wait how each actor will react,” and, philosophically, “The consequences always come later.”
No reaction could be found for Argentina, which also seeks US support.
Mexico has no reason to open a new front against its big neighbor.
In contrast, the four traditional – impoverished – members of the radical anti-Yankee front, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, embraced the Palestinian cause and berated the US and Israel.
Summing up the global picture even before the dust has settled is hazardous.
Trump has made history, no doubt. But countries kept their own interests in mind, whatever they thought otherwise about the Middle East. Europe and China, supported by Russia, are the loudest non-Muslim critics of Trump.
Their geopolitical and economic interests in the Muslim world are no secret.
For others, the links with the US still weigh heavily.The author is a Senior Fellow at The Jewish People Policy Institute, Jerusalem, and the author of Rise and Decline of Civilizations: Lessons for the Jewish People.