A template for geopolitical stability, the Xi wayThe Xi Jinping Thought has several variations to suit local conditions in client countries.
Reverberations of the 20-hour visit of China’s ‘chairman of everything’ Xi Jinping will continue to affect the geopolitics of the region for quite a while. The trip was so successful that the visiting dignitary could easily have exclaimed ‘veni, vidi, vici’ and made his hosts speculate about the true implication of the phrase. He did the next best thing and declared that the China-Nepal relationship had entered the ‘strategic partnership’ phase.
The terminology is indeed somewhat ambiguous in the field of international relations. Operational collaborations have immediate targets in mind. Tactical relationships are established to achieve short-term objectives. A strategic partnership may have long-term goals that are not necessarily military in nature. In unequal relations, however, the power of definition rests in the hands of the stronger party, which often interprets the term to advance its interests.
Within days of Xi Jinping’s visit, the Chinese showed that they did have defence cooperation in mind when they sanctioned Rs2.5 billion in military aid to Nepal. This is just a matter of conjecture at the moment, but Nepal can reciprocate by tacitly facilitating the recruitment of security guards for private firms such as Frontier Services Group of Hong Kong.
Due to decades of the one-child policy, even commoners, let alone princelings, may be unwilling to send carriers of their bloodline to high-risk zones such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) or similar Belt and Road initiatives spread all over the world. In any case, why depute one’s own when hirelings are cheaper and more effective? The Chinese have learnt the capitalist mode of outsourcing dangerous assignments pretty fast and have set up a state-of-the-art private security school in Beijing.
The Gurkhas have served the British for over two centuries with honour and distinction. A grouping of Nepali soldiers with US interests have been indirectly, and mostly through private contractors, involved in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even though it’s slightly speculative at this stage, the likelihood of Nepal shifting its loyalty to the dominant power of the century isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds.
Feeling safe, warm and comfortable in the benign embrace of Beijing, Supremo KP Oli decided to declare, through an interview (in Nepali) to the sister publication of this newspaper, that he was the senior chairperson of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and his junior better digest that reality.
For his own brief break, Supremo Oli is flying to Baku in the Republic of Azerbaijan to attend the 18th Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) being held from October 25 to 26. His entourage is sure to cut a pretty picture in their distinctive daura suruwal ensemble.
A relic of the Cold War era, the Non-Aligned Movement is all show and little substance. It became a stage of grandstanding for the likes of Fidel Castro, Robert Mugabe and even General Zia ul Haq, the military dictator of Pakistan and the point man of the West at its South Asian frontier with the Soviets. With no competitive power to align with formally, the organisation has become more or less redundant after the fall of the Soviet Union. It survives because such forums provide an opportunity for leaders from marginal countries to bask in the limelight of media attention.
The theme of the 18th NAM Summit to be held in Baku—‘upholding the Bandung Principles to ensure concerted and adequate response to the challenges of contemporary world’—is nothing if not bombast. The Ten Bandung Principles enunciated in 1955 encompass the insecurities of its signatories.
The very first principle—‘Respect for fundamental human rights and for the purposes and the principles of the Charter of the United Nations’—is quaint at best. The United Nations, for all its merits, is itself a platform and not a power; it remains hostage to the quirks of the permanent members of the Security Council (p5).
Supremo Oli’s presence at Baku will strengthen the line-up of leaders of the developing countries loyal to Beijing, which has emerged as the dominant power on the world stage. In any case, as Ash Carter, a former US secretary of defence, told The Economist, ‘Who can trust Trump’s America?’ Tibetans had experienced the US betrayal way back in the early 1970s when President Nixon had withdrawn support to the Khampa Uprising to facilitate ping pong diplomacy.
President Xi Jinping chose Kathmandu to issue his chilling warning that any attempt to divide China will end in ‘bodies smashed and bones ground to powder.’ Even though addressed to no one in particular, the target of the volley is unmistakable. It seems that the US Ambassador to Nepal was slightly late in coming to the table. Oli probably sealed the deal with the Dragon in the run-up to the 16-point conspiracy.
While geopolitical implications of the joint statement at the conclusion of President Xi Jinping’s visit are unmistakable, its core message for the internal politics of Nepal is hidden behind usual proprieties of independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Intentions, however, can be read in China’s declaration to respect ‘Nepal’s social system and development path independently chosen in the light of national conditions’.
It seems that the democracy of the 21st century is all set to reverse back from universal principles to the particularities of ‘air, water and soil’ of different countries.
Adaptable to various regimes
The founder of Singapore and the longest-serving prime minister in world history, Lee Kuan Yew, came up with the concept of Asian values in the 1990s to justify his repressive regime in the city-state. Even though touted as descriptive, it’s a normative template based upon Confucian Thought that prioritises order over the law, discipline over democracy, family over the individual and devotion over doubts among a host of other things.
The Chinese have particularised the Asian values to extend their hegemony. The Xi Jinping Thought has several variations to suit local conditions in client countries. Democratic particularities of Hindutva in India, Sunni fundamentalism in Pakistan, Bamar ethnonationalism in Myanmar or Sinhala supremacism in Sri Lanka are quite compatible with ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics for a New Era’ enunciated in the Xi Thought. The Khas-Arya ethnocentrism is a localised version of the same theme.
Once the new normal is institutionalised, the parliament shall remain as much of a rubber stamp as it was in the autumn of 2015. The courts will have to function as the judicial bureau of the Prime Minister’s Office. The anti-corruption authority will be used to discipline the opposition.
The media will have to revert back to being loyalists of the regime as it was during Supremo Oli’s first term as prime minister. There is no place for dissent in Oli-garchy, and the civil society will have to learn to behave in a subservient manner and begin worshiping the deities of prosperity rather than the Statue of Liberty. On that ambiguous note, Happy Tihar!
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