By MR Josse
KATHMANDU: By the time this is published, America will finally know who the 46th president of the United States is going to be. Whoever it is, the next occupant of the White House will have to tackle, among the familiar raft of foreign policy tasks, the rather novel challenge thrown up by the growing global perception of America as a declining, or fading, Super Power.
What suffuses that assessment with even greater geopolitical import is that China – and Russia, to a lesser extent – is simultaneously growing exponentially more influential on the world stage, particularly in the Asia-Pacific theatre.
It may be germane to point out not only that the Philippines, a long-standing ally of the United States, is poised to turn its back to her but also that Malaysia is set to do likewise – in large measure, conditioned by the contrasting power perceptions of the US and China.
In this context, briefly recall, first, that both the President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Najib Razak, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, recently embarked on very productive landmark state visits to China; secondly, that they have signaled that, henceforth, their countries will position themselves closer to Beijing than to Washington.
Clearly, what Duerte and Razak are, in effect, doing in wooing Beijing is expressing their distaste at America’s double standards in lecturing on human rights and corruption in Asia while American leaders fail to address their own violations of those policies at home and abroad.
Be that as it may, I wish now to move on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindustan that has “given up on non-alignment and joined the American bloc” with only routine protests from Congress and the CPI (M) – to quote T.J. S. George writing in The Indian Express, recently.
George believes that, “with India becoming a facilitator of US strategy in Asia it will be difficult for Delhi to sustain its familiar profile as a country that follows an independent foreign policy.”
India hitching its geopolitical wagon to a failing, or falling, star is not apparently the only foreign policy disaster that has alarmed many discerning Indian observers. For example, T.P. Shreenivasan, writing in The Hindu, excoriates the present lot of foreign policy wonks in South Block, thus:
“Focusing on national interests in formulating foreign policy is fundamental for all countries. But turning salesmanship into statesmanship is a new phenomenon in Indian foreign policy. Our tradition has been to provide leadership to the world, not demand it as a right, as Mr. Modi did in the case of the permanent membership of the (UN) Security Council.
“Speaking of our eminent qualifications is one thing but claiming it as our right may drive our supporters away. Our case was that we were willing to serve on the Council to restore the balance there and to make it more relevant, not to claim membership as a right to protect our interests. Even the Permanent Members do not claim that they have a right to be there.”
Former Indian national security adviser M.K. Narayanan, in The Hindu, refers to this striking geopolitical possibility: that of a “pincer move by Russia and China as they move closer strategically and economically”. Narayanan asseverates that “Russia can hardly be viewed as a strategic ally as of now.”
Though some have tried to make much more of the recent arms-sales agreement between India and Russia – a pale shadow of that between India and the US/West – it is difficult not to miss the cutting import of the reality that at the eighth BRICS summit hosted by India in Goa month, “Russia did not help India name check JeM and LeT in the BRICS Goa declaration”; rather, it “ensured that Syria-based Jabhat al-Nusra figured in the list” – as Sachin Parashari bemoaned in a Times of India opinion piece, revealingly headlined, “China bulldozed India’s security concerns as Russia looked the other way”!
Incidentally, adding credence to the above assessment, Brahma Chellaney lambasted BRICS as a mere ‘talking shop’ while a clutch of Indian strategic experts were quoted by Parashari as concluding that “India could do little while China managed to get its way, even at India’s expense.”
Besides, what may be usefully recalled is that Russia-Pakistan defence cooperation has become an important feature of the South Asian security/foreign policy arena, as dramatically underscored by their joint military exercise, in the wake of the Uri raid by Islamic militants in Jammu and Kashmir!
As noted in my last column, Chinese President Xi, stopping over in Dhaka en route to Goa, successfully dented the post-1971 perception that Bangladesh is solidly ensconced within India’s ‘sphere of influence’ with a plethora of agreements including that of upgrading the Sino-Bangla relationship into a strategic cooperative partnership.
WHAT POVERTY OF VISION!
I should be remiss if I failed to mention the thrust of a couple recent opinion pieces by two noted Indian commentators/experts. C. Raja Mohan, for one, writing in The Indian Express devoted his talents to elaborating on ‘the expansion of Sinosphere’ saying, inter alia, “Beijing, especially under President Xi Jinping, has made no secret of its claim to primacy in Asia and for what it sees as its rightful role in the management of the global order…”
For another, G. Parthasarathy, a former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, laments in an opinion piece in The Hindu where he recommends “India must counter China” though frankly admitting “New Delhi cannot match Beijing’s economic assistance to South Asian countries.”
Coming to Nepal, at the conclusion, it is powerfully redolent of a grotesque poverty of geopolitical sense and
strategic vision that, when the whole world has woken up to the significance of the above seismic shifts on the global geopolitical and strategic landscape, the Prachanda-led coalition should minimize China and, poodle-like, tag along an India which, in turn, is tied to an America not only unsure of itself but which is seemingly on the wane.