Monday, January 16, 2012

China Plays The Nepal Card

One striking aspect of Premier Wen Jiabao’s abbreviated visit to Nepal was his professed expectation that Nepal’s relations with India would continue to grow in the days ahead.
To be sure, the assertion was revealed to the public indirectly. But since it has not been contradicted, the sentiment can be assumed to be one both Beijing and Kathmandu want disseminated in the aftermath.
At one level, you could argue that such a candid expression of goodwill on Wen’s part would be conducive to boosting the kind of stability that has eluded Nepal for a long time. Moreover, no country would question another’s sovereign right to conduct relations with a third nation as it wished.
And have not we heard countless Indian leaders go on the record that they were entirely satisfied with Nepal’s growing relations with China?
The Chinese have been particularly adept in transforming this accepted practice of international behavior into a tool of foreign policy. It is not hard to see how the longer the Indians and others are preoccupied with deciphering the motives and intentions of the Chinese in Nepal, the better it is for the mandarins up north.
You do not have to be an incorrigible cynic to see the depravity inherent in Beijing advising a government led by a party that has so strenuously flaunted its northern tilt with abandoned while spewing anti-Indianism for several years now to pursue greater ties with India. One can only imagine the heartburn among the hardest liners among the Mohan Baidya camp.
The circumstances and schedule of Wen’s visit amply underscore that it was one the visitor was anxious to make. That he was intent on doing so to send a message to audiences beyond Nepal was equally clear. Normally, visiting Chinese dignitaries have included Nepal in a wider regional itinerary or in terms of countries with which they believe they share civilization or traditional ties. From Beijing’s perspective, it suffices that the visit took place at all.
The pledges of Chinese assistance that made international headlines may be of limited purposes here. Foreign assistance that comes with no strings attached – touted as the singular tenet of Chinese benevolence – tends to cuts both ways. The donor can delay projects or disbursements or quietly pull out altogether on grounds that may not be anticipated or often explicable to the recipient.
What Nepalis and others should perhaps focus on is the basis for pursuing bilateral relations that Wen’s visit has provided to the next generation of China’s leadership, which is to begin ascending power at the party congress later this year.
Many key factions – including the ‘princelings’ (scions of former PRC leaders and officials) and the ‘neo-comms’ – are likely to bring a neo-Maoist approach to the helm over the ensuing years as they continue to dominate the levers of power. The Communist Youth League led by President Hu Jintao is unlikely to be able to challenge any broadening of such an alliance. The voice the People’s Liberation Army has acquired in China’s policies concerning its periphery has been ringing a disproportionate echo on matters concerning Nepal.
Those dwelling on – and denigrating – Nepal’s brazen flaunting of the so-called China card always sought to deny the fact that any game by definition requires a full-fledged partner willing to play on the established terms. Today those critics find themselves forced to contend with the meaning and motives of China’s Nepal card.