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China and Nepal seal agreement on transit rights

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One major objective of contemporary Nepal has been to reduce the land-locked Himalayan country’s total dependence on India and establish solid economic and military ties with China.

The present government also pursues that strategy but without spoiling the relationship with its western neighbor India. Nepal has sealed an agreement on transit rights through China that would considerably reduce it’s over dependence on India.

Nepal’s new Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli embarked upon his first visit to China on March 20 to strike transit rights and economic deals with Beijing. Oli arrived in China on March 20 and the two sides signed 10 agreements including for a transit treaty and rail links during his talks with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang. The transit treaty reduces landlocked Nepal’s dependence on India as it sources most of imports and exports through Kolkata port.

Nepal looks to source its supplies through the arduous Himalayan route through Tibet, which many analysts say will be an expensive proposition for Nepal considering easy proximity through the Indian border. During the recent Madhesi agitation, Prime Minister Oli and other leaders had alleged that India had imposed an undeclared blockade on Nepal to back the Indian-origin Madhesis. India had firmly denied imposing the blockade.

Nepal, like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan that, though have good neighborly relations with economically militarily sound South Asian super power India, understand India’s desire to dictate terms to these nations and, therefore, do not try to annoy their big brother living with big ambitions. For instance, Sri Lanka is facing a serious war crime probe by international court and without Indian support Rajapaksha and team would be in jail, at least for their crimes against humanity, killing numberless Tamils on the island nation.

International community treats the Rajapaksha military genocides in Tamil localities, in fact trying for genocide. Although incumbent president Sirisena is duty-bound to punish the anti-Tamil criminals he is seen to be trying to save Rajapaksha from punishment for his own crimes. Sirisena-Rajapaksha duo continues to block any international investigation into Lankan war crimes and push for local investigation so that the “issue” is killed by their Singhalese judges who would save themselves from intentional insult by shielding the military crimes.

Bangladesh similarly has past experience with Indian “actions” tries best not to offend the big brother even from a distant. Though the government is inclined to be pro-Indian regime, media have enough freedom to express themselves even against the Bangla government, unlike Nepal and Sri Lanka where state control over media is absolute, even unlike in India.

Nepal knows well that by direct confrontation with India in any manner, it would have to suffer in some ways, notwithstanding support from Beijing. Hence it is very cautiously pursue a balanced foreign diplomacy. Like in Sri Lanka, neither the officals nor the core media criticize India or its policies even against others and domestic failures. They only say or write something about India only to praise it “gracefully”

Oli’s visit to China has been a subject of speculation since he came to power in October 2015. News reports had suggested that the visit to China may include landmark agreements on border trade and extradition of wanted criminals. Reports said Oli would also conclude agreements on building of multiple train routes connecting Nepal with China’s key production centres.

Strongly defending ties with China, Sharma Oli on March 20 Nepal’s Prime Minister Oli said Nepal wants good relations with both China and India to draw “developmental benefits” for the Nepali economy. “Nepal is smaller in size and has limited resources. We have to benefit also from the developmental activities in the neighbouring countries. We don’t want to fight with any country nor do we want to distance ourselves from any of our neighbours. We are a small country seeking development of our people,” Oli said in a TV interview which was telecast a on an Indian channel, a day before he is scheduled to. Oli defended his policy with India indicating that New Delhi’s lack of support to the Nepali Constitution was due to “lack of mutual understanding” which was addressed during his February visit to India.

Underlining the growing role of China in South Asia, Nepal on 21 March secured transit rights through China following an agreement in Beijing between PM Sharma Oli and his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang. China extended a ceremonial welcome to Oli who held official talks with the Chinese leadership.

However, playing down the impact of the agreements between Nepal and China, official sources said that the future of the agreements depended on the issue of “economic viability” of the transit facilities and train connectivity projects.

India at present has two rail lines under construction and three more are being planned to increase Nepal’s trade ties. The Indian ministry of External Affairs, however, refused to issue an official statement immediately, considering that the agreements were between two sovereign countries. Officials pointed out that in comparison to the Nepal-China agreement, India and Nepal had 25 crossing points, two integrated checkpoints and 2 more checkpoints were under construction. During the February visit of Prime Minister Oli to New Delhi, India agreed on giving dedicated access to Nepal to the port of Vizag.

However, officials pointed out that ‘India-Nepal ties’ could not be compared or curtailed by Nepal’s agreements with China. “After all, 98 per cent of Nepal’s third country trade goes through India and to the port of Kolkata,” an official pointed out.

Even as official sources played down the impact of the transit rights through China, Nepal PM Oli clinched the proposed agreements for rail connectivity with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang in Beijing – the development, for India, represents a challenge not just for India but for entire South Asia. China would have to ponder about how it could implement a rail and transit agreement for Nepal without opening up the Tibet region to the world. Rail connectivity from Nepal to China would be used by the non-Chinese to travel to China through Tibet.

The agreements, however, will take some time before being implemented on the ground and political developments may impact the deals concluded. However, the implementation of the deals would depend on how far China was willing to invest in Nepal considering the economic and political risks associated with the deals.

The five month-blockade on the Nepal-India border which ended in February, “pushed Nepal to open its northern borders with China for transit trade. Historically, the Himalayas were seen as barrier but now the Himalayas can be a connector between Nepal and China, underlining that transit and train agreements to create new dynamics in South Asia.

Nepali Minister for Supplies, Ganesh Man Pun declared that Oli’s visit would lead to the conclusion of a bilateral agreement on fuel supply from China. Pun also announced that the Chinese government would build fuel storage depots in three locations in Nepal for which plans have begun.

Nepal’s expanding relations with China should not “irritate” India, a senior leader of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist) said on Friday, asserting that Nepal would not accept anyone’s “hegemony”. “We want to establish relations with both the neighbouring countries (China and India) on the basis of equality, which should not cause irritation to any of the countries,” said Pradip Gyawali, a Central Committee member of the party. “As an independent and sovereign country, it is upto Nepal to decide what type of relations we want to maintain with which country, and we will not accept anyone’s hegemony,” he said talking to journalists in Banke district of western Nepal.

The ruling CPN-UML hailed the agreements inked by Nepal with China during the ongoing visit of PM Sharma Oli. “These bilateral cooperation deals are highly significant which help achieving long-term socio-economic development goals to Nepal on its own,” the CPN-ML said in a statement. The deals have opened new gateway for diversifying Nepal’s trade, the party said underlining the need for a swift implementation of these accords. “The bilateral deals reached between the two countries on trade diversification, cross border connectivity, infrastructure development, investment, reconstruction, energy, tourism and business have a long-term significance for Nepal’s socio-economic development,” the party said.

However, Nepal could not seal a vital fuel supply agreement with China which Nepali sources said would also come up for detailed discussion during the seven-day visit of Oli to China.

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East Asia

High time for India to Reconsider the One-China Policy

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Sino-Indian bilateral relations have seen major challenges in the recent years, beginning with the Doklam crisis to the current pandemic situation. The sugar-coated rhetoric of Beijing proved to be mere duplicity after tensions erupted along the Line of Actual Control where soldiers of both the states clashed in mid-2020, resulting in the martyrdom of several Indian jawans including a commanding officer. The other side also saw several casualties, though Beijing has kept the actual count under wraps. More recently, China suspended the state-run Sichuan Airlines cargo planes carrying medical supplies to India for 15 days citing the deteriorating situation in India due to COVID-19. This was after the Chinese government promised all the necessary help for India to battle the pandemic. 

The People’s Republic of China under the leadership of Xi Jinping has been maintaining an aggressive posture with India even while making calls for ‘maintaining peace’. Its support for all-weather friend Pakistan has attained new peaks when it proclaimed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor under the Belt and Road Initiative passing through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, a territory claimed by India, despite New Delhi’s staunch opposition. It is in the light of all these events that the calls of the strategic community in India to review the recognition of One China policy has gained some attention. 

India’s Sensitivity versus China’s Duplicity  

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) under the Communist Party of China (CPC) claims itself as the only representative of the Chinese nation including the territories of Tibet and Taiwan among others. Any country having formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, also known as Republic of China shall be seen by China as challenging its sovereignty. The same parameter applies to any country recognizing Tibet or similar ‘autonomous regions’ under the Chinese control. This is known as the ‘One China Principle’ or ‘One China Policy’. India was one of the first countries to recognize the PRC in 1949 after the civil war as well as to accord recognition to its occupation of Tibet. However, China claims the whole of India’s Arunachal Pradesh as ‘South Tibet’, a claim that India has always rebuffed. Moreover, it occupies Aksai Chin which it captured during the 1962 war as well as the Shaksgam valley, ceded illegally to it by Pakistan in 1963.

Even after the war and the re-establishment of cordial bilateral relations, China has continued to repeat its illegitimate claims and nibble into India’s territory.  India’s protests fell on deaf ears and this is despite India recognizing the One China Policy. India stopped mentioning the policy since 2010 in its public announcements and publications, however, without repealing it. Taking undue advantage of this China pays little concern to Indian sentiments. This view in India, to challenge China’s One China Policy, has been strengthened by aggressive diplomatic postures of China as well as its regular incursions along the disputed border while continuing to support Islamabad on all fronts – overtly and covertly, encircling India. 

The government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused to give in to the bullying attempts by China by allowing the Army to go ahead with offensive countermeasures against Chinese incursions in 2017 as well as in 2020, in addition to taking measures including banning dozens of Chinese mobile applications. It has also started actively taking part in initiatives like Quadrilateral Dialogue as well as strengthening relations with ASEAN states. However, a dominant section within the strategic community in India feel that these measures are not enough to knock China into its senses. 

Challenging the One China Policy 

The most significant among the measures suggested in this regard has been to review India’s adherence to the One China policy. In an atmosphere where China does not recognize the One India policy comprising of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh as Indian territories, experts argue the need of reciprocity. Initiatives such as providing greater global visibility and access for Tibetans including the 14th Dalai Lama, using Buddhist history and traditions as a trump card since New Delhi has the advantage of having the Dalai Lama on its side, provides legitimacy for India unlike China. India can facilitate the appointment of the next Dalai Lama and extend protection for the existing and the next Dalai Lama. The repeal of the recognition for Chinese occupation of Tibet can also send major tremors in Beijing but that seems to be a distant dream. The new democratic Tibetan government under President Penpa Tsering should be given greater official acknowledgment and publicity. India has already taken small steps in this regard by acknowledging the involvement of the elite Special Frontier Force (SFF), majorly comprising of exiled Tibetans, in a game changing operation to shift the balance against China during the recent border crisis. The funeral of an SFF commando attended by a Member of Parliament and leader from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Ram Madhav was an overt signaling to China that Indians are not refraining from openly recognizing Tibetan contributions to the state of India. Another sensitive issue for China is the Xinjiang’s Uyghur Muslims being allegedly tortured and deprived of their basic human rights in the ‘re-education camps’ by the CPC and a state sponsored genocide being carried out against them. India can take up the issue vigorously at international forums with like-minded countries, increasing the pressure on China. Similarly, the pro-democracy voices in Hong Kong, pro-Mongol movements such as the protest against Mandarin imposition in the school curriculum of Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, can also be encouraged or given moral support. India, a country which upholds its virtue of unity in diversity must take a strong stand against the ‘cultural assimilation’ or ‘liberation’ as the Chinese say. This is nothing but cultural destruction imposed by China using the rhetoric of ‘not being civilised’ and branding the non-Han population as barbaric in China and the regions it illegally occupies.

India can also stir the hornet’s nest by engaging more formally with the Taiwanese leadership. Taipei has always been approached by New Delhi keeping in mind the sensitivities of China in mind. However, it does not have to do so for a power that bullies both the nations with constant threats and provocations by its action. It is a well-known fact that Taiwan is a center of excellence in terms of the semi-conductor industry and high-end technology. Engaging more with Taiwan will not only hurt Beijing, but also will help India counter the strategic advantage possessed by China in terms of being the major exporters of electronic goods and telecommunication hardware to India. India can also attain more self-sufficiency by boosting its own electronics industry using the Taiwanese semiconductor bases. India can use this leverage to shed its overdependence on China in critical sectors, balance the trade deficit to some extent, while also securing its networks from Chinese intelligence. India must also focus on working with the states having stake in the South China Sea such as Philippines and Malaysia who regularly face aggression in their airspace and Exclusive Economic Zones from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces and China’s maritime militia, questioning their territorial sovereignty, imposing the One China Policy. New Delhi must pressurize China by working with the western nations, whose legislators have openly declared support for the Tibetan President in exile, to question China’s occupation of Tibet and attempts at homogenizing the population. Long term measures and strategies will have to be sought to end the dependence on China while seeking alternatives and becoming self-reliant over time. 

However, India will face several serious challenges to implement the above-mentioned measures. There is a deep lack of mutual trust among major powers like USA, UK, France and Russia through whom India can build a coalition. The American President Joe Biden is seemingly interested in partly co-operating with China and has a softer stance unlike the former President Trump. Nevertheless, the QUAD is a welcome step in this regard and India must undertake a greater role in pressurizing China through such forums, albeit not openly. India also has a serious issue of possibly having to incur heavy economic losses on having to limit Chinese goods and investments and finding similarly cheap and easy alternatives. These fault lines are exactly what is being exploited by China to its advantage. Thus, the Indian state and its diplomacy has the heavy task of working between all these hurdles and taking China to task. However, since China seems remotely interested in settling the border disputes like it did with its post-Soviet neighbours in the previous decades and instead gauge pressure against India. So, New Delhi will have to pull up its sleeves to pay back China in the same coin.  

The views expressed are solely of the author.

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East Asia

Who would bell the China cat?

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If the G-7 and NATO china-bashing statements are any guide, the world is in for another long interregnum of the Cold War (since demise of the Soviet Union). The G-7 leaders called upon China to “respect human rights in its Xinjiang region” and “allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy” and “refrain from any unilateral action that could destabilize the East and South China Seas”, besides maintaining “peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits”.

China’s tit-for-tat response

The Chinese mission to the European Union called upon the NATO not to exaggerate the “China threat theory”

Bitter truths

Amid the pandemic, still raging, the world is weary of resuscitating Cold War era entente. Even the G-7 members, Canada and the UK appear to be lukewarm in supporting the US wish to plunge the world into another Cold War. Even the American mothers themselves are in no mood to welcome more coffins in future wars. Importance of the G-7 has been whittled down by G-20. 

Presumptions about the China’s cataclysmic rise are unfounded. Still, China is nowhere the US gross National Product. China’s military budget is still the second largest after the US. It is still less than a third of Washington’s budget to be increased by 6.8 per cent in 2021.

India’s role

India claims to be a natural ally of the G-7 in terms of democratic “values”. But the US based Freedom House has rated India “partly free because of its dismal record in persecution of minorities. Weakened by electoral setbacks in West Bengal, the Modi government has given a free hand to religious extremists. For instance, two bigots, Suraj Pal Amu and Narsinghanand Saraswati have been making blasphemous statements against Islam at press conferences and public gatherings.

India’s main problem

Modi government’s mismanagement resulted in shortage of vaccine and retroviral drugs. The healthcare system collapsed under the mounting burden of fatalities.  

Media and research institutions are skeptical of the accuracy of the death toll reported by Indian government.

The New York Times dated June 13, 2021 reported (Tracking Corona virus in India: Latest Map and case Count) “The official COVID-19 figures in India grossly under-estimate the true scale of the pandemic in the country”. The Frontline dated June 4, 2021 reported “What is clear in all these desperate attempts is the reality that the official numbers have utterly lost their credibility in the face of the biggest human disaster in independent India (V. Sridhar, India’s gigantic death toll due to COVID-19 is  thrice  the official numbers”, The frontline, June 4, 2021). It adds “More than 6.5 lakh Indians, not the 2.25 lakh reported officially are estimated to have died so far and at best a million more are expected to die by September 2021. The Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that actual Indian casualties may be 0.654 million (6.54 lakh), not the official count of 0.221 million (2.21 lakh as on May 6 when the report was released. That is a whopping three times the official numbers, an indicator of the extent of under-reporting”.

Epidemiologist Dr. Feigl-ding told India Today TV on April, 16, 2021 that “actual number of COVID-19 cases in India can be five or six times higher than the tally right now” (“Actual COVID-19 cases in India may be 5 to 10 times higher, says epidemiologist. India Today TV April 16, 2021).

Concluding remarks

India’s animosity against China is actuated by expediency. There is no chance of a full-blown war between China and India as the two countries have agreed not to use firepower in border skirmishes, if any. Modi himself told the All-party conference that not an inch of Indian territory has been ceded to China. In May this year, the Army Chief General M M. Naravane noted in an interview: “There has been no transgression of any kind and the process of talks is continuing.”

It is not China but the Quad that is disturbing unrest in China’s waters.

History tells the USA can sacrifice interests of its allies at the altar of self interest. India sank billions of dollars in developing the Chabahar Port. But, India had to abandon it as the US has imposed sanctions on Iran.

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East Asia

Xinjiang? A Minority Haven Or Hell

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While the G7 meets under the shadow of Covid 19 and the leaders of the most prosperous nations on earth are focused on rebuilding their economies, a bloodless pogrom is being inflicted on a group of people on the other side of the world.

In this new era, killing people is wasteful and could bring the economic wrath of the rest of the world.  No, it is better to brainwash them, to re-educate them, to destroy their culture, to force them to mold themselves into the alien beings who have invaded their land in the name of progress, and who take the best new jobs that sprout with economic development.  Any protest at these injustices are treated severely.

Amnesty International has published a new 160-page report this week on Xinjiang detailing the horrors being perpetrated on Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.  Amnesty has simultaneously announced a campaign on their behalf.

Persecution, mass imprisonment in what can best be described as concentration camps, intensive interrogation and torture are actions that come under the definition of ‘crimes against humanity’.  More than 50 people who spent time in these camps contributed first-hand accounts that form the substance of the report.  It is not easy reading for these people have themselves suffered maltreatment even torture in many instances.

The UN has claimed that 1.5 million Muslims (Uighurs, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Tajiks) are in these internment camps and China’s claims of re-education camps made to sound as benign as college campuses are patently false.

People report being interviewed in police stations and then transferred to the camps.  Their interrogation was frequently conducted on ‘tiger chairs’:   The interviewee is strapped to a metal chair with leg irons and hands cuffed in such a manner that the seating position soon becomes exceedingly painful.  Some victims were hooded; some left that way for 24 hours or more, and thus were forced to relieve themselves, even defecate, where they sat.  Beatings and sleep deprivation were also common.

Activities were closely monitored and they were mostly forbidden to speak to other internees including cell mates.  Trivial errors such as responding to guards or other officials in their native language instead of Mandarin Chinese resulted in punishment.

Amnesty’s sources reported the routine was relentless.  Wake up at 5am.  Make bed — it had to be perfect.  A flag-raising and oath-taking ceremony before breakfast at 7 am.  Then to the classroom.  Back to the canteen for lunch.  More classes after.  Then dinner.  Then more classes before bed.  At night two people had to be on duty for two hours monitoring the others leaving people exhausted.  You never see sunlight while you are there, they said.  That was because they were never taken outside as is done in most prisons.

The re-education requires them to disavow Islam, stop using their native language, give up cultural practices, and become Mandarin-speaking ‘Chinese’.

Such are the freedoms in Xi Jinping’s China.  If China’s other leaders prior to Mr. Xi effected moderate policies in concert with advisers, it is no longer the case.  Mr. Xi works with a small group of like minds.  He has also removed the two-term or eight-year limit on being president.  President for life as some leaders like to call themselves, then why not Mr. Xi.  His anti-democratic values make him eminently qualified. 

An enlightened leader might have used the colorful culture of these minorities to attract tourists and show them the diversity of China.  Not Mr. Xi, who would rather have everyone march in lockstep to a colorless utopia reminiscent of the grey clothing and closed-collar jackets of the Maoist era. 

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