BY M. R. JOSSE
GAITHERSBURG, MD: Although there is no dearth of comment-worthy developments unfolding here, I shall focus mainly on happenings relating to the upcoming summit Friday between the leaders of the two Korean states, which, coincidentally, takes place while leaders of China and India are to jawbone, informally, in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
In one way or another, the outcome of those diplomatic engagements will have significant spillover effects internationally, where the Koreas are concerned, and in South Asia, in the context of the wide-ranging, extended discussions expected between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
This column will attempt, incidentally, to explain where and how the second set of apex deliberations between the principal leaders of India and China may have a bearing on Nepal.
But, before getting down to those narratives, it will be perfectly in order to refer to the proposed forthcoming summit between President Trump and North Korea’s supremo, Kim Jong Un, sometime in May, at an as-yet undisclosed venue.
To recall, that announcement last month not merely came out of the blue but has set off a burst of speculation on what the outcome of the Trump-Kim summit and its centre-piece – ‘denuclearization’ – might be.
To make discussions on the subject even more juicy it has been followed by Kim’s startling declaration the other day that his country no longer needs nuclear tests or missiles; it would thus be prepared to shut down its nuclear test-site. As officially explained, Kim’s decision was made in a bid to pursue economic growth and peace on the Korean peninsula.
While Trump has tweeted that Kim’s declaration on the proposed suspension of nuclear tests indicates that ”progress” has been made on this tangled, sensitive subject, there is no dearth of skeptics here in the United States – as elsewhere – who voice doubts about Kim’s real intentions, or about what he would seek from the United States as a quid pro quo.
Though all that will be common knowledge in about a month’s time, for now, it is germane to note that there could be widely differing interpretations to the supposed common goal of ‘denuclearization’ – with Pyongyang wanting to get the U.S. to withdraw its nuclear arsenal from the region and Washington focused on transforming the Korean peninsula into a nuclear weapons-free zone.
As far as the inter-Korean conclave on the DMZ between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in is concerned, it must be noted that it has come about after months of careful, inter-locking diplomatic moves and gestures of goodwill between Pyongyang and Seoul, both of which would, presumably, favor the signing at some point of a formal peace treaty ending the Korean War, replacing the Armistice Agreement of 1953.
To take the case of the Sino-Indian Wuhan encounter, April 27-28, it may be noted that the announcement of that diplomatic event was made by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing in the presence of visiting Indian Foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj.
What is revealing is that the informal and in-depth talks, as per Xinhua citing Wang, aim at “strategic communications” between the two leaders, taking into account the “world’s profound changes” while conducting an exchange of views on “overall long-term and strategic issues regarding China-India relations.”
While there is little doubt that Modi’s softening towards China in recent months is due to his disappointment with Trump’s America – which paid scant strategic attention to India – it would seem to be influenced, equally, by Modi’s diminishing prospects for electoral triumph at the 2019 general elections.
What is to be noted, too, is that it is Modi who has traveled to Wuhan for the meeting, not the other way around. Also noteworthy is that increasingly little is heard these days about the oft-hyped “India-US-Japan-Australia” anti-China “quad”, nor is the chauvinistic bombast for India to ‘take on’ China a staple of its media chorus.
According to former Indian diplomat and Asia Times columnist, M.K. Bhadrakumar, the envisaged Xi-Modi strategic communications aim to harmonize the two countries South Asian policies. “The effort will be to avoid treading on each other’s toes while pursuing legitimate interests” with Modi “keen to draw big-time Chinese investment.”
More significantly, he believes “Nepal becomes a test case with Beijing reportedly signaling interest in a trans-Himalayan economic corridor to India.” Thus far, India has not been terribly keen; in fact, it has looked with disfavor at Sino-Nepalese efforts at greater road and rail connectivity – not to mention Kathmandu’s warm embrace of China’s OBOR initiative.
Who doesn’t know that one of the principal reasons why Oli was unseated by India-supported forces during his earlier prime ministerial stint was because he warmed to OBOR and Nepal’s need for greater rail and road connectivity with China – entirely logical in the context of India’s blockade?
A somewhat different perspective is offered by Hindustan Times’ Pramit Pal Chaudhuri who believes that is an “an unstable world” that has brought Modi and Xi together “for now.” He then quotes unnamed official sources saying that there is no “strategic shift” in the India-China relationship.
Nepal’s policy makers must take into account the latest twists and turns in Sino-India relations keeping in mind that China is richer, stronger and bigger than India; that there is no reason at all for Kathmandu to fear New Delhi’s wrath at pursuing close, mutually advantageous ties with Beijing. If India seeks greater engagement with China – including economic investments – how can India object to Nepal doing likewise?
While there is the need for constantly monitoring the health or direction of Sino-Indian relations, it would be in the fitness of things to realize that both countries are interested in a stable and prosperous Nepal.
Unfortunately, there is a recrudescence of political violence, of new parties being born, of others being split, even as the scourge of separatism is rampant and federalism unravels.