By M. R. Josse
GAITHERSBURG, MD: The thrust of this valedictory column is directed to a few hot-button issues of global significance.
As I hope to continue writing on Nepalese affairs following my return to Kathmandu soon, I wish now to flag a couple of broad-brush issues pertaining to Nepal.
The first has to do with what transpired at the informal two-day talk-fest at Wuhan between Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping that had a direct bearing on Nepal: does anybody in Kathmandu know?
The second concerns the implications of the overall outcome of the watershed Sino-Indian “strategic communications” experiment at Wuhan.
To me, it appears that an unstated sense of disappointment is palpable in India, while, overall, the differential in levels of international attention to the ground-breaking Panmunjom talks between the North and Korean leaders, and those broadly held at the same time in Wuhan between Xi and Modi is not only striking but instructive.
Searing censure by the Uddhav Thackersay-led Shiv Sena party claiming Modi avoided taking up critical issues with Xi during his ‘casual’ visit to China is illuminating in as much as the Shiv Sena is not only joined at the hip, as Modi’s BJP is, to the Hindu RSS organisation but more so because it is a component of the BJP-led central government.
Though similarly strident Indian criticism of Modi’s latest diplomatic caper has not come to my notice thus far, that the bevy of China experts in India are not exactly dancing the ‘bhangra’ on the boulevards of Luyten’s graceful city tells its own doleful tale.
In any case, what one would most like to know is whether India would endorse Nepal joining China’s momentous OBOR initiative; to establishing 21st century-style road and rail connectivity; and other forms of mutually beneficial engagements with her northern neighbour – or whether New Delhi obstinately and obsessively clings to the obsolete ‘Nepal-under-the-Indian-sphere-of-influence’ colonial mind-set?
Though in time more should be known about the above, and other, dimensions of the Wuhan palavers, I note that there has been violent outpouring of anti-Indian sentiment in Nepal of late, despite – or perhaps because of – Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s supposedly ‘most fruitful’ India visit last month.
Incidentally, I am prompted at this juncture to quote a revelation contained in a column in the Washington Post by Jackson Diehl: “The prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, Lobsang Sangay, was in Washington last week for a singular purpose: to try to persuade the Trump administration to fill the State Department post of special coordinator for Tibetan issues – which, of course, is vacant.” Sangay did not succeed in his mission, one is informed.
Clearly, the Trump administration is in no mood to rashly needle Beijing with whom it needs to conduct important business. Will Modi, post-Wuhan, continue a ‘soft’ approach to China, including on Tibet, one wonders?
Incidentally, one also continues to conjecture when Oli will make his official visit to Beijing; earlier, one was told it would be prior to Modi’s second prime ministerial mission to Nepal.
That the Kim Jong Un-Moon Jae-In talks April 27 were most productive, besides being the stuff of high drama and spectacle, was underlined by an official statement from Seoul that Kim pledged to shut down North Korea’s nuclear test site sometime in May and, to boot, to invite “experts and journalists” from both South Korea and the United States to visit the site at Punggye-ri to verify the deactivation.
Summit talks between North and South Korea, it may be noted, ended with a commitment to rid the peninsula of nuclear weapons and formally ending the Korean War.
The North Korean leader was quoted as saying, “If we are able to build trust through frequent meetings and processes to end war, and produce a policy of non-aggression, there’s no reason for us to live a hard life with nuclear weapons.”
While the Panmunjom-Seoul rapprochement was welcomed by President Trump – preparing for his summit with Kim at the fag end of May, some speculate in Singapore – it was notable that uber-hawk John Bolton, his national security adviser, told CBS’s Face the Nation that while the Trump administration is “hopeful that we can get a real breakthrough” it was not “naive”.
He went on to say: “We want to see real commitment; we don’t want to see propaganda from North Korea…We’ve seen words so far.”
Equally salient were comments by newly confirmed US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who, as CIA chief, made a secret visit to Pyongyang where he met Kim before the announcement of a Kim-Trump summit. He was the highest level US official to meet Kim, at the time.
In his words, “I don’t think Kim Jong Un is staring at the Iran deal and saying ‘Oh goodness’ if they (the US) get out of the (Iran nuclear deal) deal, I won’t talk to the Americans anymore.”
Incidentally, Trump is expected to make a decision by May 12 on whether to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. Two days later, the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem is scheduled to open its doors – to the delight of Israel and the dismay of the Arabs.
Pompeo hit the ground running with a visit to Brussels, followed by a three-day trip to the Middle East, where he urged cooperation among the Gulf states, for easing economic tension with Qatar, and unifying against Iran.
Finally, two sidebars on Korea: the first is the proposed visit to Pyongyang of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi which recalls Kim’s recent secret trip to Beijing – by train.
The second is this excerpt from Paul H. Nitze’s memoirs, ‘From Hiroshima to Glasnost’, about General Douglas MacArthur’s “willingness of expand the Korean War by initiating the use of nuclear weapons.”
Nitze discloses that “MacArthur’s real aim was to expand the war into China, overthrow Mao Tse-tung, and restore Chiang Kai-shek to power.” President Harry Truman fired him, April 10, 1951.
and how the second set of apex deliberations between the principal leaders of India and China may have a bearing on Nepal.
Panmunjom, Wuhan and forthcoming Trump-Kim interface
By M. R. Josse