By Prabasi Nepali
Nationalism in Nepal: RPP to the Fore
Students of Political Science have clearly understood the relevance of ‘nationalism’ in a developing country like Nepal, and the devastating effects it could have in a highly developed world power like the United States. The presence of this ideology in the US has the potential of shattering the rules-based system of international relations established under the leadership of the US after the Second World War. On the other hand, the lack of a consensus among the political parties and the political elite on ‘nationalism’ in Nepal is a grave threat to its independence and territorial integrity. The lacklustre acceptance of the role of Prithvi Narayan Shah in the unification of the country is a case in point. The same political elites will also not see any necessity to highlight the unique role of King Tribhuvan (whose supreme leadership in the Nepali Congress movement against the autocratic Ranas was crucial) in ushering in ‘democracy’ — particularly relevant on ‘National Democracy Day’ this Saturday.
It is, therefore, most welcome that the chairman of the united RashtriyaPrajatantra Party (RPP/National Democratic Party), Kamal Thapa has highlighted the necessity of ‘Nepali Nationalism’ in promoting societal cohesion for sustained growth (vide his interview in The Kathmandu Post, February 12, 2017). And contrary to most cowardly Nepali politicians, he has unabashedly championed the cause of Hindu constitutional monarchy as a panacea for societal and national ills. The monarchy was illegally and unconstitutionally abolished without recourse to the sovereign people. Mr. Thapa is the right man in the right place to now spearhead a national movement for its speedy restoration. With the appropriate ideas (which he has in abundance) and the righteous candidate, he could garner enough support for a sizable majority in a national referendum, to take place concomitantly with the elections to the new national parliament. The ideal royal candidate is in plain sight — the grandson of HM King Gyanendra, HRH Prince Hridayendrawho is coming of age. Till he reaches maturity, the regency would naturally be held by his mother, HRH Princess Himani, whose social engagement has been exemplary. [N.B. Regal titles have been used undaunted, since the monarchy was extinguished unconstitutionally. Those favouring the restoration are encouraged to do likewise, especially in the social media!] United States & China: Cooperation or Conflict
The United States and China are the two leading world powers today, and for their own sakes and also for international relations in general, cannot afford to antagonize each other. In particular, the United States cannot and should not attempt to isolate China. A policy of containment is now passé.
According to the scholar John Pomfret, the United States has been the most important enabler of China’s rise. In fact, China has used the international system created by the United States for its maximal benefit in various ways. He is of the opinion that regardless of political affiliation in Washington, the majority of those that mould policy vis-à-vis China, considers that it has “played the United States for a sucker for far too long.” At the same time, “the complexity and depth of the [US-China] relationship makes reconfiguring it fraught with risks”. As a major world power, China’s economy is closely interwoven with America’s.
However, President Xi Jinping and Donald Trump have already basically revealed that they do not share the same world view. At the World Economic Forum in Daaavos, Switzerland, Xi defended globalization and equated protectionism with “locking oneself in a darkroom.” Trump, on the other hand, has promised that in every way he will put America first — to the detriment of other societies and economies. While China is attempting to put behind Mao Zedong’s antiquated and chaotic ideas, in practice, if not in words, Trump seems to embrace them. In a famous speech in 1949, Mao claimed that the “Chinese people have stood up.” Trump has promised to battle the Washington elite and drain ‘the swamp”. Mao undertook to eradicate capitalist overlords and establish a “people’s government.” Trump’s “maddening unpredictability” resembles a prominent Mao quote: “There is chaos under heaven, the situation is excellent” [!] Trump will not serve US interests by starting a trade war with China or preparing for confrontation in the South China Sea. Trump foolishly withdrew the US out of Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact of 12 nations along the Pacific Rim, excluding China. Xi immediately took advantage by inviting those Asian nations abandoned by the US to join a Chinese-led regional economic partnership. Step by step, Xi will capitalize on Trump’s mistakes and appear more statesmanlike, where Trump emerges belligerent.
It is in America’s long-term interest to strengthen its relationship with China, not to work towards its failure. A new scholarly report by the Asia Society and the University of California, San Diego has stated that antagonism could lead to trade war, or even armed skirmishes. During the Obama administration, the US-China relationship was also strained, with major differences over economic and trade issues, cyber attacks and Beijing’s forceful maneuvers in the East China and South China Seas. Now Trump has given notice that he could take an even tougher line on China. His administration could project more military might in Asia and impose high tariffs on Chinese goods. China would, of course, retaliate with punitive measures of its own.
The Trump administration has backed down, for the time being at least, from Trump’s previously confrontational approach. During his insurgent campaign for the White House, he frequently lashed out at China, which he accused of currency manipulation and stealing American jobs. In the wake of his election victory, he committed a diplomatic faux pas by speaking on the phone with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen. With this, he threw doubt on the ‘One China’ policy, even suggesting that it was up for negotiation and could form part of talks on trade, drawing hefty reprimand from official Chinese media and the Foreign Ministry.
Last Thursday, Trump reaffirmed Washington’s “One China’ policy in his first telephone conversation with Xi Jinping, a palpable effort to ease tensions after infuriating Beijing by questioning a major tenet of Sino-US relations. During a phone call with China’s leader, the US president agreed to “honor” a position that effectively respects Taiwan is not distinct from China, i.e. it is not ‘autonomous’, and cannot strive to be an ‘independent’ entity, detached from the mainland. The two leaders also “extended invitations to meet in their respective countries.” The White House called the phone discussion — which came on the eve of Trump’s slated meeting with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe —“extremely cordial”, underlining the two leaders “look forward to further talks with very successful outcomes.”
This was, without doubt, not only a major breakthrough, but a personal capitulation on the part of Trump, signalling the moderating influence (as many pundits had hoped and expected) of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Gen. (retd.) James Mattis. This new welcome development could also be read as a sign of pragmatism in the new administration’s foreign policy/national security approach to its powerful adversary/partner in world politics. Thus, this is definitely a recognition that the US and China may not be bosom friends (like the US and UK with their ‘special relationship’ and cultural affinities), but neither are they indefatigable enemies (like the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War). The world can breathe a collective sigh of relief — at least for the time being.
Australia & the United States: Cheerio!
Absolutely unnecessarily, Trump has allowed US relations to Australia, a key ally in the Asia-Pacific region to sour. In a phone call less than two weeks back between Trump and PM Malcolm Turnbull, in which the president denounced a refugee agreement between the US and Australia under President Obama, Australia clearly perceived that it can no longer trust the US. It will have to now look after its own national interests, and this inexorably means drifting away from America and moving closer to China. Even now, China is of great importance economically to Australia. It is the biggest market for Australia, receiving more than 30 percent of its exports, and the trade balance remains highly in Australia’s favor. Its sales to China are five times more than that to America.
During the Obama administration, Australia had already observed that his “pivot to Asia” was ineffective and had undermined confidence that Washington had the resolve to resist China’s foreign policy/security aspirations, or the capacity to do so without provoking conflict which could escalate into war. Trump has made the situation even worse. Australia has no doubt benefited enormously from the peace and stability that the US brought to Asia, and there is great affinity in core values. However, Australia has had to reassess its place in Asia and the world after the new political equation propounded by Trump. According to Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at the Australia National University in Canberra, this has forced Australia “to choose between our biggest trading partner and our closest ally.” There is also palpable fear that “any diplomatic rupture with China would have swift and devastating economic consequences.”Australia is thus faced with Hobson’s choice, considering that Trump’s ‘America First’ nationalism suggests that he will not sustain United States leadership in Asia in the long term.” Since Trump also believes that allies are dispensable, White maintains that Australia “will begin tacitly to acquiesce to China’s claim to regional leadership.”
Nationalism: In a Developing Country & a World Power
By Prabasi Nepali