• Wednesday 26th February 2020

From far and near: a mixed bag of curiosities

  • Published on: November 22, 2017

    MRJ 1NEW YORK, NY: There is never a shortage of political themes or interesting geo-strategic or diplomatic gyrations or shifts to comment on, or draw attention to, from this neck of the global woods.
    Let’s begin with what appears to be a move by Japan and China to mend ties – in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s recent swing through East Asia – in a dynamic that would suggest a power shift in that region.
    As the New York Times covering the Trump odyssey interpreted a warm handshake and smiles between Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Da Nang, we may be on the cusp of a “potentially momentous shift” in East Asia with “the two longtime adversaries drawing closer as the United States under President Trump has created unease among allies about the role that the United States will take in the region.”
    Based largely on Japanese media commentary, the NYT story suggests that: “In gesturing towards a new friendliness, Japan is motivated in part by the recognition that as the United States retreats, it needs stronger trade with China. Having watched Mr. Trump heap praise on Mr. Xi in Beijing last week, Japan is also propelled by fear that the United States may develop a closer rapport with China that would exclude Japan.
    “And as China seeks to strengthen its power, it realized it may have more success exerting authority in the region with Japan as less of a rival. At the same time, Mr. Trump’s visit showed China that the United States is unlikely to get its way, allowing a more confident Mr. Xi to be more generous towards Japan.”
    Doubtless, the North Korean threat is another catalyst for the above process. Of course, one must not forget Japan’s underlying if unspoken fear of abandonment by the United States or, indeed, the fact that Trump seemingly failed to press China on its military build-up in the South China Seas.
    Similarly, there is little doubt in my mind that Beijing ‘making nice’ to Tokyo is probably related to China’s objective in showing that Americans cannot be relied upon. All of the above, certainly, is not to suggest that serious political obstacles to a robust Sino-Japanese rapprochement are non-existent.
    Yet, despite their territorial dispute in the East China Sea and the unease in China about what it views as a return to Japan’s militarist past, it is understood that the influential Japanese business community has been pressing Abe to join with mega Chinese projects in Eurasia.
    While the perceived move by China and Japan to inch closer together is significant in global terms, for Nepal, its main significance would be its impact on the oft-reported understanding between India and Japan to ‘counter’ China.
    To the extent that Japan cools its zeal in lurching ahead in that direction, there would be a commensurate dampening in any possible Indian enthusiasm in trying to promote pro-‘free Tibet’ activities, including those facilitated by a pliant Nepali regime.
    Another engrossing off-shoot of Trump’s recent East Asia trip is the announcement by Beijing that it would be dispatching Song Tao, a high-level diplomat, to North Korea – for the first time in two years.
    Though the expectations from that exercise are reported as muted, as Yang Xiyu, a Chinese diplomat who led the so-called six-party talks with North Korea more than a decade ago said, most likely, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would be willing to negotiate only after conducting another missile test of the kind that has shaken the world this year.
    While on the subject of North Korea, it is significant that as per a detailed news story in the NYT the United States is racing ahead with ‘Plans B and C’ to counter North Korean missiles. Senator Jack Reed, Rhode Island, (D), who serves on the Senate Armed Forces Committee and who has just returned to Washington after a lengthy visit to South Korea last month, is convinced the US needs to do more to counter North Korea.
    “There is a fast-emerging threat, a diminishing window and a recognition that we can’t be reliant on one solution.”, says Reed.
    Incidentally, the shadow of North Korea and Trump’s rather unsettling rhetoric and bluster vis-à-vis dealing with the Pyongyang regime has prompted a couple of influential lawmakers to suggest that a new law be adopted to bar the President from launching a first nuclear strike without a declaration of war by Congress.
    The NYT in a recent editorial supported that idea, but recalling that, at this time, the President has sole control of nuclear launches stemming from the 1946 Atomic Energy Act which was passed “when there was more concern about hawkish generals than elected civilian leaders.”
    Finally, in the context of the recent ‘soft coup’ or ‘bloodless correction’ against President Robert Mugabe’s dictatorial regime by the Zimbabwean military, it may be edifying to be reminded by the New York Post that “in the early 1980s, Mugabe’s North-Korean trained troops descended in the Matabeleland killing 20,000 people” and forcing his rival Joshua Nkoma into exile!
    It is disturbing to read about a spate of recent attacks on political candidates in several constituencies on the eve of important regional and federal assembly elections. The targeted individuals seem to be Leftists who are considered more ‘nationalistic’ than their rivals.
    One was pleased in any case by a statement by the US government expressing its alarm at concerted attempts to impede the electoral process through violence.
    While it is anyone’s guess how the electorate will react, the massive positive coverage that Kirtinidhi Bista’s passing received in the media may be a hopeful indicator that patriots will trump foreign lackeys.
    I shall not, however, be as foolhardy to hazard any guess. Nepali politics are not governed by normal laws; shadowy figures and foreign money all too often pull the strings behind-the-scenes!


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