By Prabasi Nepali
Random Thoughts on Nepal’s Local Polls
The huge voting sheet was a sure indication that the election commission considers us a nation of uneducated bumpkins (although the literacy rate is over 70 percent!). The reason: the voting sheet did not mention the names of the candidates and their party affiliations; we were expected to vote on the basis of the candidates’/parties’ election symbols alone, as if we all could not read or write!
Although the country was holding local polls after 20 long years, President BidyaBhandari gave a very bad example by being absent.
Because of the large turnout – nearly 75 percent, it can be said that the people are conscious of their democratic rights. It remains to be seen to what extent the representatives at the local level respect the aspirations of the people.
Donald Trump ‘Out of Control’?
The firestorm that has arisen in Washington over Trump’s sudden dismissal of FBI Director Comey, has led many observers to speculate about the actual reasons for the president’s move. There is no doubt that he has now become distrustful of some of his own White House staff, heavily reliant on only a handful of family members and longtime aides. He is also fearful of leaks. As a result, his administration has become handicapped in the decision making process. Trump’s weakness in the domestic arena is also affecting his capacity to make realistic decisions in foreign affairs. According to the Associated Press, this is a White House accustomed to bouts of chaos, and Trump’s handling of Comey’s firing could have serious and long-lasting implications. James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, went to the extent of commenting that Trump was eroding the main tenet of American democracy – the separation of powers. Furthermore, US institutions were “under assault” both externally (Russia) and internally from President Trump himself [!] The independent US media and experts of the Washington scene have increasingly compared the current situation to the infamous cover-up in the ‘Watergate affair’ during the tenure of President Richard Nixon. There is the smell of a conspiracy of something to hide, and a sword of Damocles hanging over a possible collusion between the Trump campaign
and Russia. Trump is getting increasingly jittery, and his visible anger and erratic tweets prompted a reporter to ask the White House press secretary Sean Spicer last Friday if the president was “out of control.” His (apt for once) reply: “That’s, frankly, offensive”[!] North Korea Again Defies & Challenges Major Powers
At a time when the United States under President Donald Trump shows no signs of a resolute und sensible foreign policy in East Asia, and external actions are severely hampered by domestic travails, North Korea has struck again. Last Sunday, it again defied United Nations resolutions and its authoritarian ruler Kim Jong-Un thumbed his nose at all the principal players in the region – South Korea and Japan (the most effected from the security standpoint), as well as the United States, China and Russia (all three permanent members of the UN Security Council, which is primarily responsible for upholding international peace and security). He had the audacity to order still another ballistic missile in defiance of calls to curtail its weapons programme, and just days after the new president of South Korea came to power promising to engage it in dialogue and extending a hand of friendship. It also seems that China’s policy of extreme caution and warning the main adversaries – the US and North Korea – not to increase tensions, has not borne fruit. Nor has Trump’s extreme dependence on Chinese President Xi Jinping to control North Korea’s leader.
According to officials in South Korea and Japan, the missile flew 700 km and reached an altitude of more than 2,000 km – further and higher than an intermediate-range missile North Korea successfully tested in February from the same region of Kusong, north of its capital, Pyongyang. An intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is considered to have a range of more than 6,000 km. Experts said that the altitude the missile reached meant it was (purposefully) launched at a high trajectory, which would then limit the lateral distance it actually traversed. If it had been fired at a standard trajectory, it would have had a range of at least 4,000 km (6,000 km according to a South Korean expert). Japan said the missile flew for 30 minutes before dropping into the Sea of Japan/East Sea – standard practice for the North. North Korea has boasted that the tested “Hwasong-12” was “capable of carrying a large, heavy nuclear warhead.” Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics commented: “It is definitely concerning”.
Ignoring the seriousness of the situation, Trump’s White House had only an idiosyncratic and/or nonsensical comment: “With the missile impacting so close to Russian soil – in fact closer to Russia than Japan – the President cannot imagine that Russia is pleased” [!] In fact, Russian President Vladimir Putin (currently in Beijing for the ‘One Belt – One Road’ function) and his Chinese counterpart were not overtly excited by the new development in their own
backyard. A spokesman commented only low-key: they had discussed the situation in the Korean peninsula and expressed ‘mutual concerns” about growing tension. Russian President Vladimir Putin had the gall to comment: “We must stop intimidating North Korea and find a peaceful solution to this problem.” All this must have been disappointing to South Korean President Moon Jae-in who termed the missile launch a “clear violation” of UN Security Council resolutions. He remains open to the possibility of dialogue with North Korea, but only when the North shows a change of attitude. His hands seem now to be tied with regard to the previous government’s decision to deploy a US anti-missile defence system (THAAD) aimed at safeguarding against North Korea, but which China sees as a threat to its own security. His efforts at improving relations with China have now become more complicated. There is also the definite perception that Kim does not take Trump very seriously. Besides not having a realistic policy vis-à-vis the North, Trump had also tweeted that Kim was ‘a fantastic kid’ and that he would be “honoured” to meet him under the right circumstances [!] Important Recent Articles & New Books
Shyam KC: “Revisiting Nepal’s foreign policy. Conduct a Deeper Assessment of Global Power Dynamics”, in: “The Himalayan Times. Perspectives”, May 14, 2017. Mr. KC is a Research and Development Director at the “Asian Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs”, one of the many research institutes and/or think tanks that have mushroomed in the capital city with little information/communication about their actual activities. None have managed to reach the standard of the legendary “Sangam Institute of Policy Analysis and Strategic Studies” (Gyaneswar), under the stewardship of the Executive Director, Dr. PushpaAdhikari. In its heyday, Sangam Institute published many academic articles, research papers and books, and conducted many workshops, seminars and weekly symposia. It had to close its doors because of funding problems. Unfortunately, no other institute has been able to replicate its work.
In his article, Mr. KC is of the opinion that Nepal must promote its national interest by shifting “from ‘equidistance’ to ‘constructive autonomous engagement’ with its immediate neighbours with the support of highest level of domestic consensus possible.” However, it must be said that ‘equidistance’ and ‘constructive autonomous engagement’ need not be mutually exclusive policies, and do reflect a realistic view of Nepal’s foreign relations vis-à-vis India and China. This ‘realism’ was part and parcel of the great Prithvi Narayan Shah’s vision.
Mr. KC seems to apply the notion of ‘Thucydides Trap’ (“When a rising power threatens to displace a ruling one, the most likely outcome is war” – Harvard professor Graham T. Allison) to Nepal’s sensitive position between “the two rising powers” in the north and south. India may be a rising power, but it is finding difficulty of recognition in the international arena. It is not even a member of the United Nations Security Council, the high table of international politics. China, on the other hand, is an economic, financial and military powerhouse, and, therefore, technically a ‘great power’, although not on the same level as the United States. Allison’s analogy thus does not apply to the Sino-Indian, nor Sino-American relationship. In the latter case, it is further complicated by the fact that a confrontational course assures mutual destruction.
North Korea Defies Major Powers
By Prabasi Nepali