BY M. R. JOSSE
NEW YORK, NY: Although things political back home are finally falling into place with the K.P. Sharma Oli-led coalition charging ahead on a steadier wicket than has been Nepal’s lot lately, a number of contradictory or worrisome out-of-kilter developments are perceptible.
Topping the latter category is the egregious stance adopted by a group of EU election observers who seemed determined, as ever, to stir the ethnic-racial-religious pot in Nepal.
Even the successful conclusion of three tiers of elections, following the adoption of a people written constitution transforming Nepal into a federal, secular republic, does not seem to have sated their omnivorous appetite for meddling – in this instance, by encouraging the Madeshi and Janjatis to clamour for further rights with the potential for re-igniting the flames of strife and division that were doused by the constitutional changes engineering into the national polity.
[Perhaps they should direct their attention, instead, to Spain’s Catalonia region.]
There can, in my mind, only be two broad sets of motives for their actions: one, to keep themselves in the ‘play’ in Nepal; and, the other, to ensure a perennial storm of instability and uncertainty in a swathe of territory along Tibet’s southern flank, in order to bog China down and obstruct her staggering, inexorable rise.
Intriguing straws in the wind include India’s so-called thawing of its China policy, underlined lately by the cancellation of a China-themed Indian defence ministry’s think-tank seminar, and the much-hyped downplaying of India’s ‘China card’, by ordering a lower Dalai Lama profile.
Foreign policy analysts would do well to probe this phenomenon: is it for real or merely a time-buying ploy influenced by the grudging acknowledgement of the humungous power-differential between India and China, and perhaps a lack of support from the Trump administration for any ‘containment of China’ exercise that India might, earlier, have been tempted to attempt?
Could it be linked, instead, to the growing perception – as encapsulated in a recent Washington Post column by Sadanand Dhume – that Prime Minister Modi’s reelection in 2019 is far from a shoo-in? An India at odds with all her neighbours, including a China seemingly under a powerful life-time president, would, in addition to failure on the home front that Dhume details, surely play badly with the voter.
Returning to Nepal, does India’s putative softening mean that Indian power brokers will view with calm equanimity an official visit to China by a delegation of the Federal Social Forum, Nepal? Or, to the reported agreement between Nepal and China for supply of electricity from Lhasa to Kathmandu? Let’s see.
UPHEAVAL AND CHAOS
The past week in Washington has witnessed such a blizzard of momentous developments that the collective buzz word to describe it has been ‘chaos.’ Though too numerous to detail here, mention must be made of President Trump’s nomination of arch conservative and foreign policy hawk John Bolton to replace outgoing National Security Adviser Lt. General H.R. McMaster. Bolton, former President George W. Bush’s UN ambassador who could not be confirmed by the Senate, does not need Senate confirmation for the NSA position.
The third NSA in the administration in 14 months, Bolton is a highly controversial figure who has pressed the White House to take tougher positions on Iran and North Korea. It has naturally ruffled quite a few feathers, not only in American policy circles but also abroad.
Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has, as readers know, been replaced by CIA chief Mike Pompeo who has an impeccable academic record both at West Point Military Academy and Harvard Law School, plus experience as a military commander and lawmaker. While he has to go through the Senate confirmation process, he is thought likely to win it, given that in similar hearings a year ago, for the CIA position, he sailed through easily.
His nomination, like that of Bolton, comes against the backdrop of a forthcoming US-North Korea summit towards the end of May and ahead of the May 12 self-imposed deadline whether the US will leave the Iran nuclear agreement, causing anger not only in Iran but also among America’s traditional allies who co-signed it during Obama’s tenure. Pompeo, too, has been known to be highly critical of the Iran deal.
President Trump has, among other things, confronted China on trade, including imposition of tariffs in $ 60 billion of imports and tighter restrictions on acquisitions and technology transfers. Though specific action, one is informed, will not come to play for at least a month, in a warning shot, China, March 23, unveiled plans for tariffs against $ 3 billion in US imports, from fruit and pork to recycled aluminum and steel pipes.
Though commentators have noted that Beijing’s response has been rather muted, they are in agreement that China has more weapons in its arsenal to respond to Trump’s trade war threat. What’s more, there seems to be a consensus that rising tensions thus caused could, among other things, undercut America’s global influence, even as another milestone of retreat from the post-war World Order is marked.
Talking heads are puzzled as to Trump’s economic war against a China which he has often acknowledged has a vital role to play in any resolution of the North Korean nuclear question. What seems to have compounded the prevailing sense of unreality is that Trump, against the wishes of his advisors, warmly congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin for his spectacular, if expected, re-election, touted as a result of Russians rallying around in protest against Western pressure.
If a sense of turmoil comes wafting across in Trump’s decision not to hire two lawyers he appointed just two days earlier in the context of the Mueller inquiry, there is now a stark contrast between the topsy-turvy world of Trump and the perception of an ever-growing convergence of strategic interest between Beijing and Moscow, where Xi and Putin have further consolidated their power.
Interesting days, clearly, lie ahead.