Sunday, March 01, 2009

... The Sincerest Form Of Diplomacy?

Imitation may or may not be the sincerest form of flattery in the Nepali context, but it sure does seem to have become an earnest form of diplomacy. At least, as it pertains to recent Chinese dealings with post-monarchy Nepal.
Last year, when the new Chinese ambassador, Qiu Guohong, began political consultations even before he had presented his credentials to President Ram Baran Yadav, it wasn’t quite clear that Indian diplomacy had won over the mandarins up north. But when the Chinese submitted a draft of a peace and friendship treaty to a government under siege from royalists and the Nepali Congress, New Delhi must have been thrown back to 1950.
China’s professions of opening its borders with Nepal didn’t seem to give the Indians any premonitions, considering the confidence with which the external affairs secretary lobbed the 1950-treaty-review ball in our court.
Like Mohan Shamsher Rana, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal probably sees some merit in trying to diversify his options. Now that engagement with the Americans is back on track, and the Gurkha recruitment issue sorted out with the British, Dahal should have found the going a little easy. But the dragon just can’t stop breathing fire down his throat. The latter-day Ranas had a far better deal from the north. Once they burned their fingers trying to claim suzerainty over Nepal, Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists spurned our oligarchs, bequeathing the vassalage viewpoint to Mao Zedong.
From the manner in which Dahal’s Beijing visit keeps being delayed, one wonders whether there is some serious haggling going on – a la King Gyanendra’s India non-trip in 2004. For now, Dahal has flashed his bona fides by clamped down on the Tibetans. The Chinese embassy perimeter and the Xinhua news agency offices have been declared protest-free zone. (Journos with CD plates, still?)
Yeah, yeah, the imperatives of the 50th anniversary of the abortive Lhasa uprising sound momentous. But China braved the worst last year when it had to preserve the Beijing Olympics at all costs and still prove its determination to hold on to Tibet. This March, in all likelihood, will be far less tumultuous. The protests escalate, Beijing cracks down, western governments and human rights groups cry foul. Everybody goes home, right?
Not quite. The Dalai Lama is becoming biologically less tenable with every year he lives in exile. His flock in exile is up in arms over the path of peaceful resistance. Newsweek has anointed the Karmapa Lama as the man to watch. The Shigatse-Lhasa power struggle compounded by the Red and Yellow sect rivalry helped Beijing in the past.
Whether or not the Karmapa Lama, who fled Tibet via Nepal while we were still railing against Zee TV’s coverage of the Indian Airlines Flight 814 hijacking, is really a Chinese agent – as some allege – Beijing feels it is on the right side of geography. Considering the massive influx of Hans settlers over the decades, the Chinese would have loved to invite the United Nations to hold a plebiscite and settle the matter for good. But it just can’t set a precedent for Xinjiang, can it?
Consider the fallout of China’s assertiveness. Former king Gyanendra is in India three years after he angered New Delhi by flaunting the China card. It took King Birendra roughly the same time to patch up with New Delhi after the arms-import brouhaha brought about the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990.
But let’s not forget that Birendra was still a constitutional monarch and India had moved three prime ministers away from the man whose breakfast invitation he had declined because he felt he would be uncomfortable in the restricted company of the Bhutanese and Maldivian heads of state.
Gyanendra Shah has lost his crown and the man he supposedly snubbed during the Dhaka SAARC summit by forcing China’s induction as an observer as the price for Afghanistan’s full membership is still prime minister of India. The Maoists believe the ex-king is trying to regain his crown, throne, scepter and much more. Maybe Dr. Manmohan Singh is just anxious to review the minutes of that meeting with an ordinary Nepali citizen.
As for the Sino-Nepali draft treaty, we have no clue as to what it might really entail. So forget about prying into any secret letters that might be exchanged in Beijing during Dahal’s upcoming trip. Still, does the prospect of Chinese military officers manning our border with India really seem that far-fetched?