Monday, March 28, 2011

The Curious Case Of Qiu Guohong

Qiu Guohong and weakness? If those words go together, then that may be yet another indication of how bad things are likely to turn for us in the months ahead.
The first wave of news blandly suggested that Beijing had recalled its ambassador in Kathmandu eight months before he completed his three-year tenure. Then came suggestions that the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs was dissatisfied with Qiu’s ‘weak diplomacy’ in neutralizing anti-Chinese activities in Nepal. Really?
This is a man who, emulating his counterpart from India, began consultations with Nepalese politicians even before he had presented his credentials. Over time, Qiu’s pronouncements grew candid vis-√†-vis Nepal’s independence and sovereignty, reminiscent of the pre-Cultural Revolution Mao Zedong era. While Qiu’s tenure saw a flurry of official Chinese visits, political and military, there was also a conspicuous spurt in assertions of Beijing’s soft power.
The Chinese Embassy, as the prevailing narrative holds, shrewdly facilitated the seven-point pact between the CPN-UML and UCPN-Maoist and a new government as President Ram Baran Yadav was on an official visit to India holding consultations on how to proceed with the protracted deadlock. Qiu’s embassy persuaded democratic governments to crack down hard on Tibetans in Nepal who were exercising their own democratic rights in exile.
Sure, his tenure had its share of downs. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s government collapsed after an abortive attempt to sack the army chief. The fact that our current Prime Minister, Jhal Nath Khanal, who received a abrupt phone call from India and cut short his visit to China to return home to criticize the Maoists’ move he was originally said to have supported, reflected poorly on Beijing.
Moreover, the Maoists’ fall came after the leaking of a draft Chinese treaty that, among other things, envisaged a tightening of Nepal’s commitment to a One China policy. The Krishna Bahadur Mahara cash-for-votes telephone controversy was not one of Qiu’s proud moments, either.
But Qiu, Maila Baje believes, fared better than his predecessor, Zheng Xialing, who was also recalled before the completion of his term. Zheng, who made history by becoming the first ambassador in Kathmandu not to present his credentials to the king, ostensibly displeased his bosses by his inability to anticipate Tibetan protests in Kathmandu on the eve of the Beijing Olympics.
Said to have been vacationing while much of the Tibetan exiles’ planning took place, Zheng returned to work forthwith and hit hard on Nepal for not doing enough to calm the streets. But it was too late.
Generally speaking, Chinese ambassadors do not seem to have had a consistent tenure in Kathmandu. Zhang Shijie (1960-1965) and Cao Chi (1972-1977) each served over five years. Li Debiao (1987-1991) and his successor Shao Jiongchu (1991-1995) served over four years each. On the other hand, men like Ma Muming (1981-1983), Zhang Jiuhuan (1995-1998) and Wu Congyong (2001-2003) were in Kathmandu less than three years.
The shortest tenure was that of Yang Gongsu who served barely a year and a half when he was recalled in mid-1967. But he was part of Cultural Revolution’s foreign policy fallout when Beijing recalled every ambassador except – inexplicably – the one in Cairo. (Technically,Yuan Zhongxian had the briefest term – six months between 1955 and 1946 – but, then, he served currently as Beijing’s envoy to Delhi and Kathmandu).
What makes Qiu’s case curious is the revelation by a Nepalese daily he had lost out to the military attach√© at the embassy. The military man, who is said to rank higher than Qiu on the ladder that really matters, considered Qiu too lackluster in his approach to the Tibetans.
That underscores a conspicuous trend wherein the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has acquired a growing influence over Chinese foreign policy. Juxtaposed with the substance and symbol of PLA chief Chen Bingde’s recent visit and the jockeying in the Tibetan exile movement following the Dalai Lama’s latest announcement about his future role, are we surprised that the Terai and the southern realm beyond is once again swinging into harried action?