Sunday, February 28, 2010

Quiet Diplomacy Getting A Little Louder

The fight for civilian supremacy, democracy and rule of law, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal reminded us the other day, is the common challenge in all Asian countries. Glancing through the list of nations attending the conference he was inaugurating, our prime minister seemed half-right. What intrigued Maila Baje was his hope that the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) would be developed into an Asian parliament that would issue a common currency.
Nepal’s speech recognized how the ICAPP was developed as a common forum to strengthen relations, build trust and extend mutual help among Asian countries through political exchanges. But contemplating another European Union? Just because Nepali political parties seem to have an innate ability to define any grand vision as democratic does not mean all others in the region should. (Not that the ICAPP is really up to speed on our head of government. A member of the standing committee, Nepal is still listed as the CPN-UML general secretary and leader of the parliamentary party.)
Another eye-catching nugget in the premier’s speech was his assertion that the abolition of Nepal’s 240- year-old monarchy was possible because of the historic People’s Movement in 2006 that was backed by the international community. How this highest-level public admission of a foreign hand in the contravention of the public version of the 12-point agreement would impinge on the penultimate stretch of the peace process remains to be seen.
More relevant was the meeting between Nepali Congress President Girija Prasad Koirala and Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jieyi, the star delegate at the conference. Our grand old man sought Beijing’s cooperation and support for the peace process, which Liu, we are told, generously pledged. What was fascinating was Liu’s expectation that the High Level Political Mechanism (HLPM) would play a vital role in building political consensus to bring out the constitution on schedule.
As someone who has spent most of his career on issues relating to North America, international organizations and arms control, Liu might be forgiven for having missed the controversy the HLPM has kicked up. But, then, as a star student and teacher at the top foreign language institute in the capital and an interpreter at the UN office in Geneva, he is not one to stumble on words. Nor is he a stranger to Nepal. Liu was one of the three men who had landed here in quick succession last year when Beijing handed over the draft of the new peace and friendship treaty. That was supposed to have been the centerpiece of then-prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s planned visit to China before it tightened into a geopolitical noose.
On the face of it, Liu’s view on the HLPM acquires importance because the body is perceived as a mechanism with a pronounced northern tilt. Even more significant is the fact that Liu is the Deputy Director of the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee. In the words of the prominent American China expert David Shambaugh, “no ruling party or government in the world mounts anywhere near as extensive an effort to maintain links with domestic political parties groups and personages as does the CCP”. And the International Department does so quietly, he adds, as its activities and exchanges remain out of the media and scholarly spotlight.
This does not mean this is a covert organization. As Shambaugh points out, it is one of the few Central Committee organs that maintain a public website. Moreover, the department has a modern 14-storey office building in a prominent location in central Beijing with its name screaming out from a neon sign on the top.
So what are the Chinese up to here? A couple of years ago, some Indian analysts were suggesting that our Maoists were receiving clandestine backing from this very organization amid Chinese protestations that it had nothing to do with the Great Helmsman’s southern acolytes. Maila Baje recalls that Beijing recently elevated its ambassador in New Delhi to the level of vice-minister. Could that be the price the quiet diplomats up north have paid to raise their voice in Nepal?