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Telling summitry optics, rhetoric and policy moves

KATHMANDU: Last week, international relations buffs dined on a veritable banquet of delectable food for thought, marveled at a kaleidoscope of telling optics and policy moves as the G-7 summit in Quebec, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) conclave in Qingdao, and the apex U.S.-D.P.R.K meet in Singapore opened and closed.
This column will however focus mainly on the summit in Qingdao, China, while touching tangentially on the G-7 assembly in Canada, and setting aside, for the time being, the wildly-hyped Singapore jawboning ‘tamasha’ between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s supremo, Kim Jong Un, which, at the time of writing, was yet to take place.
G-6, G-7, AND G-8
The SCO’s carefully choreographed display of unity, coinciding with the Quebec assemblage, was a revealing contrast to the Group of Seven summit of leading industrialized nations which witnessed the unseemly spectacle of the United States and its allies torn asunder by surging tensions over trade.
The G-7 meet, in fact, concluded on a bitter and controversial note as Trump excoriated Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a fusillade of tweets from Air Force One, labeling him “dishonest and weak” and – what’s more – retracting the U.S. for the summit’s communiqué, as he flew towards Singapore!
For whatever it is worth, it was notable that Kim traveled from Pyongyang to Singapore in an Air China 747 jet aircraft.
By the by, at a press conference prior to taking off from Quebec for Singapore, Trump lashed out not only against Canada for imposing very high tariffs on American agricultural produce but he also took a swipe at India alleging that it was imposing “100 percent tariffs on American goods, against America charging nothing: this cannot continue.”
Be that as it may it seemed that the G-7 had in fact been transformed into G-6. Notably, Trump had earlier publicly advocated Russia’s re-entry into what had – before Russia’s annexation of Crimea – been the G-8. That, needless to say, infuriated other summiteers.
Coincidentally, another G-8, of sorts, appeared to surface – this time at the SCO jamboree in Qingdao where India and Pakistan participated for the first time as full members!
Looking under the calm waters of the Yellow Sea washing the Qingdao shore, it was apparent, however, that the carefully engineered display of consensus and camaraderie concealed important divisions – among them: that India refused to endorse China’s signature Belt and Road Initiative in the SCO’s final communiqué.
Not surprisingly, both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed the entry of India and Pakistan as new SCO members. More noteworthy, I thought, was Xi’s cutting observation, probably directed at the United States, that countries should “oppose the practices of seeking absolute security of oneself at the expense of the security of other countries.”
Yet, it has other ramifications: as far as I can tell, both Russia and India are prototypes of states whose obsession with their total security all too often render their neighbours insecure!
That stated, with sharp optics and rounded analysis provided by China Global Television Network (CGTN), the following telltale features of the SCO summit emerged: that the organization has been steadily expanding; that its agenda is comprised of both bilateral and multilateral issues, a key dimension being Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative; a weighty stress on security/counter-terrorism; and agreement to coordinate policy vis-à-vis international questions.
From CGTN coverage one got the distinct impression that both India and Pakistan seemed to be rather sidelined, in comparison to the two power centres – China and Russia – and the four former Soviet Central Asian republics.
In any case, it appeared that both Iran and Afghanistan – observer states represented by their presidents – received greater attention from the Western media. With security and counter-terrorism being so high on the SCO agenda, general interest in Afghanistan’s presence at Qingdao was understandable; that was even more so in the case of Iran which no doubt seeks Chinese and Russian support following America’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.
One understands that Iran and Afghanistan are in the queue for SCO membership. Reportedly, at Qingdao, Putin assured Iranian President Hassan Rouhani of his support to Iran in that regard.
Nepal’s absence at the Qingdao SCO conclave was striking. As far as I am concerned, there has not been any credible explanation for that; after all, Nepal is a ‘dialogue partner’ along with five other states.
Since the SCO summit was divided into a ‘members only’ and ‘wider group’ segments, where even heads of international organizations were expected to attend, it is difficult to understand Nepal’s conspicuous absence at the latter occasion. Was she not invited and others were?
Earlier, as reported by the Kathmandu Post, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali flew from Kathmandu for Mongolia instead, with Nepali ambassador to China expected to join him!
One wonders whether this weird state of affairs has any relevance to the widely reported news story that Prime Minster Oli had desired his China visit to coincide with Qingdao only to be told by Chinese officialdom that such timing would be ‘inconvenient’. What is the real story?
Whatever it is, I was attracted to a Reuters item from the United Nations reporting that the UN General Assembly elected five new non-permanent members to the UN Security Council for a two-year term starting in January 1, 2019.
That included Indonesia which trounced the Maldives in a contested election for one Asia-Pacific seat, by 144 to 46. It was a chilling reminder of the humiliating defeat Nepal suffered in 2006 at the hands of Indonesia – by an even more embarrassingly wider margin! At that time, Prime Minister Oli enjoyed deputy prime minister and foreign minister status.
Japan has served as a non-permanent UNSC member 11 times, while India and Pakistan have each served seven times.
Nepal, as many may not know, served twice – both times during the Panchayat era!

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