BY M. R. JOSSE
NEW YORK, NY: On the eve of Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s official India visit one encounters the shop-worn argument about Nepali prime ministers ‘always’ visiting India ‘first’.
While this bit of diplomatic hokum is freely bandied about, notably the myth-spinners fail to explain why Prime Minister Jung Bahadur – one of the country’s most iconic historical figures – choose Britain for his first diplomatic foray, and not India (at the time, a British colony).
THE ‘FIRST’ MYTH
If the objective is to ‘prove’ that Nepal is politically beholden to India, one may note another telling historical milestone: Nepal opened her first diplomatic mission in London, long before India gained independence!
Furthermore, remember that Nepal established diplomatic relations with the United States and France even before doing the same with India.
Else, if the intention of such spin meisters is seek to conceptually torpedo a Nepali foreign policy rooted on diplomatic equilibrium and equi-distance, vis-à-vis India and China, the question must be asked: what, truly, is the real purpose behind flogging the India ‘always first’ twaddle?
Is it to suggest that Nepal has to seek India’s blessings and acquiesce before venturing on any diplomatic or political path – even in this day and age? Surely, even Bhutan would not agree with such an antiquated, colonial arrangement with India.
Coming to the Oli visit itself: what is important is not that Oli – having established his political bona fides with China – has chosen to pay such a visit to New Delhi, but what actually transpires there, especially against the background of the pitiless five-month plus blockade it imposed on a Nepal brought to her knees by the Great 2015 Earthquake.
One may usefully note, too, that Oli’s India excursion comes against the backdrop of his electoral triumph – not only despite India’s efforts to topple the earlier coalition he headed but also more recently of abortive endeavours to thwart it, via open support for the Nepali Congress and its electoral allies.
While on the subject of India, I note a development that has snagged the attention of the New York Times: the eruption, once again, of murderous violence in the Kashmir Valley in clashes between Kashmiri militants and the Indian army.
What also grabbed me was a major piece in NYT whose following excerpt says it all: “The cancelled events (marking the Dalai Lama’s 60 years in India) underline India’s struggle to both court and counter balance China, an increasingly difficult feat given China’s recent willingness to flex its military growth…
“Giving in to China on the Tibetan community in exile is largely symbolic” said Jonathan Holslag, Prof. Free University, Brussels, “But it does mark India’s weakening compared to China. China is rapidly modernizing its military presence and India cannot follow. In March, Beijing increased annual defence budget to $ 175 billion; it dwarfed $ 45 billion New Delhi announced weeks earlier.”
Against such a backdrop, one understands why China is not breaking into a sweat that Oli is visiting India ‘first’!
North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un’s two-day secret trip to confer with Chinese President Xi Jinping seems to have bolstered China’s diplomatic hand, while simultaneously reflecting the former’s unsuspecting acumen in working to set the agenda before the much hyped US-North Korea talks in May: later this month he will parley with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
As per NYT’s Beijing correspondent, although Kim has yet to say what concessions he is willing to make, or what he may demand from the United States in return, he has continued to dominate the diplomatic process, while repeating his vaguer commitment to denuclearization of the Korean peninsula – this, according to the Xinhua account of the Xi-Kim conversation.
Significantly, Xinhua also informed that the Chinese government had briefed the White House on Kim’s visit, adding that Xi had sent a personal message to President Trump. Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who is on good terms with Chinese leaders, was quoted by NYT, thus:
“China is saying to the United States and the rest of the world: ‘Anyone who wants a deal on anything on the future of the Korean Peninsula and certainly to something that deals with nukes, don’t don’t think you can walk around us, guys.’ ”
The week just over has once again been a tumultuous one both for the United States and President Trump who, despite his penchant for getting into hot political water, finally joined a basket of European allies by, for his part, expelling 60 Russian diplomats and closing down the Russian consulate in Seattle. Naturally, the Russians have retaliated in kind and scope.
This came in the aftermath of the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England, causing UN Secretary General Antonio Gueterres to remark that the crisis in relations between the Kremlin and the West recalled the Cold War, “only without the control and channels of communication established before the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union to make sure things would not get out of control when tensions rise.”
Returning to the Korean Peninsula, I now wish to share some illuminating observations and reminiscences by Isaac Stone Fish in The New Republic (Jan/Feb 2018) – before the announcement of the forthcoming Trump-Kim talks. Among them:
“A meeting does not require mutual respect or trust, just an understanding that it benefits both sides to talk. Nixon was engaging with China, he told his ambassador in 1971, “not because we love them, but because they are there.”
“Kim could easily portray a deal with Trump as a great victory just as Trump could boast to the American people that solving the North Korean crisis proves he is the greatest negotiator in history.”
Indeed, Pyongyang could turn out to be fanatical and pragmatic – like Beijing was perceived to be before the Sino-American breakthrough was achieved in 1972. Let’s see.