Saturday, April 20, 2013

Someone Had To Say It!

There was a conspicuous clang of condescension in United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s assertion that he was visiting Beijing in an effort to help Nepal maintain equidistance between its two giant neighbors.
Dahal’s meetings with China’s new President Xi Jinping and other senior leaders were widely covered by the state-controlled Chinese media. Yet this time, the Chinese media also covered how widely their Nepali counterparts covered Dahal’s trip. And Dahal, for his part, conveyed both Chinese and Nepali concerns during a candid interview with a Nepali reporter in Beijing.
That the Chinese would use Dahal to convey their concerns on Tibet and Nepal’s moves toward federalism can perhaps best be understood against Beijing’s demonstrable reluctance to be seen interfering in our domestic affairs (and thereby contrast itself with India).
The Chinese, according to Dahal, are not necessarily against federalism. They just want to be sure that the model Nepal seems to be favoring does not end up prolonging national instability.
Amid the predictable jeers back home surrounding the Maoist chairman’s undertaking – for instance, how he furtively met the Indian ambassador thrice before his trip up north – Maila Baje feels Dahal made a constructive contribution to the Nepal-China dialogue process.
What China wants and does not want from Nepal have largely superseded Nepal’s own aspirations and expectations in recent years. Nepal’s international image has been hit by successive government crackdowns on the Tibetan community here.
Nepali protestations that we are under intense Chinese pressure to abide by our commitment to a one China policy have not found favor among the other international stakeholders, which have legitimized almost every other action the post-April 2006 leadership has taken regardless of ideological orientation.
That the domestic drivers of ‘new Nepal’ are not emboldened enough to face up to the Chinese is, ultimately, a slap in the face of these other external stakeholders.
It is in this context that Dahal’s contention that a poor Nepal cannot abide by its commitment to a one China policy comes into sharp focus. The reality that Nepal will continue to be a base for Tibetan independence/autonomy movement is now as clear as the recognition that it was always so after the 1959 Tibetan uprising. That Nepal once exercised extra-territorial rights in Tibet may be a historical footnote at this point in time, but it does provide the context to our special position there, exemplified by the fact that we are the only country with a consulate in Lhasa. (For an exhaustive treatment of this angle, Maila Baje recommends Nepal and the Geo-Strategic Rivalry Between China and India, written recently by Nepali journalist Sanjaya Upadhyaya.)
Nepal’s full cooperation in China’s campaign to stabilize Tibet has become more imperative amid our own seemingly inexorable instability. The Nepal-China border may be topographically forbidding, but it is still porous enough to be an asset to those seeking to contain (or whatever you want to call it) an assertive China. Amid deepening turmoil, the political and economic incentives from China’s rivals for Nepal to water down, if not entirely discard, its one-China policy can become more expedient to our leadership.
Thus Dahal’s exhortation to the Chinese to put their money where their mouth was long overdue. Clearly, the Chinese must have recognized how badly they have mishandled the post-April 2006 situation. By abandoning the monarchy so visibly, Beijing probably had hoped to win over the new political players. (Let’s not forget how eagerly the Chinese ambassador became the first foreign representative not to present his credentials to the king).
Yet Beijing’s very public display of ‘unsentimental pragmatism’ led the newly ascendant political parties to doubt not only China’s motives but also its willingness to sustain its newfound overtures. The political quid pro quo within which the Chinese have preferred to conduct their economic diplomacy with Nepal over the past seven years has made this much clear: Nepalis’ congenital distrust of India does not necessarily translate into outright companionship with China.
Call it equidistance or equiproximity or the Yam Doctrine, Nepali aspirations have always been the same: retaining the ability to exercise its sovereign options without fear or favor. Now what’s wrong with that?