Sunday, April 27, 2014

Himalayan face-off is inevitable

India and China are competing everywhere on earth, from nearby Pakistan to faraway Africa, for natural resources and diplomatic edge. The situation is no different in the rugged terrains of neighbouring Nepal

India and China have a long history of love-hate relations that can be traced to the pre-civilisational era. Colonisation, of course, changed the conventional terms of engagement — especially the Boxer Rebellion in which the Indians fought, along with British forces, against the Chinese revolutionaries. Since then, the Chinese have never really trusted the Indians.

A part of the Henderson-Brooks-Bhagat report on the 1962 India-China War clearly establishes the effects of this old Chinese complex. It also details the blunders done by the Indian Armed Forces and the defence establishment.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s heightened sentimentalism, rather his show of statesmanship that caused for the war, have also been exposed. The report is only partially in the public domain; nonetheless, it has given much insight into India-China relations.

Tibet and Kashmir and China’s irritating stand on boundary issues are the focus in journalist Shishir Gupta’s book, The Himalayan Face-off: Chinese Assertion and the Indian Riposte, which says, “Even if bilateral trade between India and China goes beyond $100 billion in the coming years, China’s posture towards India is adversarial and will perhaps remain so in the future, with Beijing viewing New Delhi through the prism of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-exile… A rising China, inflexible on boundary dispute resolution and with strong tentacles across South Asia and beyond, could encroach on India’s strategic space and lead to a potential crisis this decade.”

However, the book doesn’t look into the India-China ‘face-off’ in Nepal. China has turned overtly cunning in Nepal, so as to challenge the traditional comfort characteristic of India-Nepal ties.

China is infusing large amounts of money in Nepal to minimise the warmth New Delhi and Kathmandu have enjoyed through economic cooperation. On the ‘softer’ side, China is missing no chance to slap its cultural load on Nepal.

Hence, the number of Nepalis wanting to learn the Chinese language has seen a dramatic rise in recent years. Still, it will be difficult for China to counter India’s traditional position in Nepal.

Politically, the advent of Maoism in the mid-1990s gave China a big foothold in Nepal. But Maoism in this Himalayan Kingdom has been so diluted that it has almost lost its Chinese soul, especially in the face of the complex conditions produced by local competitive politics.

For many years, Maoists were able to hold on to power because they were pragmatic and flexible in their political programming.

The Maoists in Nepal designed their policies in keeping with the changing political situation of the land. They rose to occupy the highest positions in the country, but in recent years they have lost the sheen after the top Maoist leadership’s dubious stands were exposed and the former insurgents frittered away the credentials to stay on the high moral ground.

China is watching the developments in Nepal closely. The 2013 election has given the new regime a mandate to govern, not rule ruthlessly and without a sense of direction. In this new composition, Maoists are a minimal force.

From a larger geo-strategic point of view, China perceives India to be getting close to the world’s only superpower. Therefore, it has been seeking to encircle India through various advances.

Some may argue that this is perhaps partially an existential tussle caused by China’s continuing complex vis-à-vis India. Perhaps China still sees India as a collaborator of the colonial British Army that plundered Chinese cities.

However, this seems like a ridiculous argument when China, today, is one of the biggest offenders of human rights. It makes little sense as to why China would seek to shape its current engagement with India on the basis of an event that happened over a century ago, and that too under the control of colonialists, not Indians per se.

Still, India and Nepal, in all their diplomatic manoeuvrings towards China, must take into account the complexities of the Middle Kingdom.

Time and again, the Chinese leadership has asserted its belief in co-existence — India has been acknowledging this without giving heart to it, as this country has its own share of complexes, born out of Chinese betrayals that began in 1962. Nepal, with its unique historical position, has rarely had to face-off with either Beijing or New Delhi.

India and China appear to be in a tug of war, with their many unresolved issues. It is difficult to be optimistic about the future, given the incorrigible complexes of both Beijing and New Delhi. The Himalayan face-off is a reality, and it is going to be an enduring one.

India and China are competing everywhere on earth — from nearby Pakistan to faraway Africa — for natural resources and diplomatic edge. The situation is no different in the rugged terrains of Nepal.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Pioneer on April22,2014)

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