• Monday 6th April 2020

Lessons and Soundings from Madrid and Beijing

  • Published on: November 1, 2017

  • By M.R. Josse
    MRJ 1NEW YORK, NY: Last week, some attention was focused on developments in Barcelona, in particular the demand for Catalonia to formally break from Spain.
    Significantly, since last week’s piece the Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont’s regional government has been fired by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, while the regional parliament has been dissolved and new regional elections ordered for December 21, 2017.
    Rajoy took the draconian step following the decision October 27 by a majority of Catalan lawmakers to declare Catalonia an independent republic, a measure promptly deemed illegal by the Spanish Senate in Madrid which voted 214 to 47 to invoke Article 155 of Spain’s 1978 constitution granting the prime minister extraordinary powers, including seizing direct administrative control over the region and removal of secessionist politicians.
    Predictably, while Rajoy’s actions sparked a mammoth demonstration of protest in Barcelona, October 27, on October 29, there was a humungous show of strength – estimated by police at 300,000 and 1.1 million by organizers, according to the New York Times – in favor of Spanish unity.
    Although in seven weeks the world will know how the political chips will eventually fall in Catalonia, it may be useful to recall, in the meantime, that there has, thus far, been no support from the EU for the separatists. As per a plurality of media reports, EU officials are wary of helping the Catalan rebels for fear of encouraging similar movements in Europe.
    In fact, the president of the EU Council, Donald Tusk, was quoted by the NYT as bluntly stating, after the Catalan parliament’s ‘declaration of independence’, that: “Nothing changes” and “Spain remains our only interlocutor.” As per a NYT news report, October 30, “polls suggest that the pro-unity parties demonstrating on Sunday will have an edge in the December election, though the contest is close.”
    Significantly, as per the Daily News, “officials in the UK, France, Italy and the US announced their support for a united Spain.” Specifically, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, outlined Washington’s stance, thus: “Catalonia is an integral part of Spain and the United States supports the Spanish government’s constitutional rights to keep Spain strong and united.”
    As far as the US is concerned, one has only to recall its gory civil war to preserve the union, to understand the above outlined American position on Spain’s unity, in the present context.
    One may wonder, in the current circumstances, what India’s position is, considering that – in the past – she has clandestinely supported separatist elements in Nepal’s Madesh region. Blatant Indian interference in Nepal’s domestic affairs is too well known to merit special attention, although the fact of impending regional and national elections calls for greater vigilance in the matter.
    Thus far, I have not come across any reference of any Indian support for Catalan independence. One sincerely hopes that she has realized that such a move could easily backfire with catastrophic results, especially if one takes into account such festering problems as Jammu and Kashmir, and the smoldering fires of dissent across vast swathes of Indian territory, including in her troubled Northeast.
    Vital geo-political echoes of regional and global significance reverberated from the Beijing’s Great Hall of the People for much of last week, the highlight of which was the elevation by China’s Communist Party at its 19th Congress of President Xi Jinping to the exalted status of modern China’s founding father, Chairman Mao Zedong.
    As per the Wall Street Journal, a unanimous decision was taken at the Congress by 2,336 select party members to rewrite the party constitution to include “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” alongside “Mao Zedong Thought”, written into the party constitution in 1945. Significantly, it stands above “Deng Xiaoping Theory” penned into the party statute in 1997 after Deng’s demise.
    As the New York Times reported it, Xi’s elevation was achieved, among other things, by Xi’s name and ideas being written into the Party constitution – a feat that, as the New York Times reported it, “solidified Xi’s position as China’s most powerful leader in decades after only five years of leading his country, making it harder for rivals to challenge him and his policies.”
    China watchers also noted that the 19th party congress not only elected a new 376-member Central Committee, but that it promoted many of Xi’s allies to the body that approved the top leadership.
    Another key component of the changes introduced by the conclave was that in the unveiled seven-member standing committee of the politburo of the Chinese Communist Party there was no clear successor to Xi: none of the other members of the new body could be considered equals or potential rivals. Premier Li Keqiang is the only holdover from the past lineup.
    So what does all this mean for China and the world? For China, it equips her to seek to shape the global order – a proposition that leaves many uncomfortable, including in India, going by fevered opinion pieces in its elite print media.
    While some Western scholars predict that the era of consensus decision making in China may be over, as per the NYT, “Xi’s victory at the Congress means President Xi will welcome President Trump in November more confident than ever in his hold on power and the party’s support for his more assertive foreign policy.”
    Clearly, these changes will not only have a profound impact on Nepal; they will certainly also affect Sino-Indian relations in a major way.
    One hopes that those in leadership positions, in politics, the media and academe in Nepal will not fall back on the knee-jerk habit of relying on what Indian pundits have to say but do their own independent analysis, based on Nepal’s – not India’s – national interest.
    Among other things, I suggest that they closely monitor President Trump’s impending visit to China and other East Asian capitals for tell-tale clues.


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