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Trilateral omission

By Maila Baje
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Darn it, they couldn’t let our exhilaration last a little longer.
When news broke of the surprise trilateral meeting between the leaders of Nepal, China and India on the sidelines of the Goa BRICS summit, it really felt, well, good, to say the least.
Finally, our two closest friends seemed to have gotten together to help us get our act together – and in full public display. Instead of continuing their perennial turf war over a sliver of mostly stony real estate, China and India seemed to have decided to join hands to keep the ‘distant barbarians’ out of the arena.
The initial details, too, were credible enough. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Chinese President Xi Jinping were engrossed in bilateral talks when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi suddenly dropped in. (Of course, you could impute any motive here, but let’s be charitable for the purpose of this post.)
The trio continued talking as the fourth person there, our premier’s wife Sita Dahal, looked on. (Although she still had her arms folded, Madam Dahal seemed a bit more engaged with the goings-on than she was at Rastrapati Bhavan in New Delhi a month ago. Moreover, her multi-hued handbag on the coffee table sat well with the adjacent flowers and provided a quaint harmony to both Xi’s and Modi’s jackets and the sofa pillows.)
Then the next batch of details trickled in. Xi and Modi responded positively to a proposal Dahal had made earlier on enhancing trilateral cooperation among the three countries. Emphasizing the need of tri-party strategic understanding, Dahal said Nepal’s unique geography positioned it as a ‘dynamic bridge’ between the Asian giants.
Modi and Xi agreed, but Dahal hadn’t finished. He seemed to suggest that Nepal could help to maintain cordial relations between India and China. Xi, for his part, praised Nepal’s role in maintaining equidistant relations between China and India, while Modi acknowledged the geographical, emotional and cultural relations among the three countries.
What happened? Weren’t we told that the Chinese president had cancelled his visit to Nepal (scheduled around this time) because he considered our government too India-friendly, or something like that? And hadn’t the Indian prime minister conspired with Dahal to oust the K.P. Oli government because it was too China-friendly?
Okay, Pakistani-backed incursions into Kashmir precipitate Indian military action inside Pakistani territory. The Russians seem to tilt towards Islamabad as Donald Trump assiduously courts the Hindu vote in the United States. And what? Xi and Modi suddenly decide to sit in a joint meeting with Dahal?
Man, this was nail-biting stuff but also sounding too good to be true. Alas, it was. A spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs said that the meeting was ‘informal’, entirely coincidental, and just a ‘little chat’.
Describing the sequence of events, the spokesman said that after their bilateral meeting, Dahal and Xi were waiting in the lounge to go to the informal dinner. (Gosh, what’s with this obsession with informality?) Modi also happened to be there. So, the Indian spokesman said, there was no reason to call it a trilateral meeting.
All that high-minded sentimentalizing, nodding and elevating of eyebrows amounted to nothing? Nah, somebody somewhere just cast an evil eye. And, yes, that’s being charitable.

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