Authors: Himal Neupane & Jamal Ait Laadam
Although China and Nepal are very different in terms of each territorial size, population, economic capacity, technological prowess and above all military power, the bilateral relations between them have been undergone consistently and significantly. Since 1955 when China and Nepal formally recognized each with, their bilateral relationship has been characterized by equality, harmonious coexistence, everlasting friendship and overall cooperation. Particularly during the past over 40 years, China and Nepal have undergone substantial developments in view of mutual understandings. For example, in 1996 the two sides for the first time agreed to build up a good-neighbour partnership of the 21st century.
In line with this spirit of mutual respect and equality, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Nepal on October 12-13, during which the heads of the two states formally announced that they elevated the China-Nepal Comprehensive Partnership of Cooperation to Strategic Partnership of Cooperation in light of their many common values to enhance cooperation It is reported that President Xi frankly said Nepal wouldn’t be a landlocked country in the future as the trans-Himalayan connectivity network ultimately will support sustainable development and stability of the entire South Asia region. This is not only a promise from a large neighbor, but also a sort of responsibility from a rising major power of the world, which aims along with other parties, either large or small, to create an international community of shared future.
Accordingly, on October 12, Nepal and China signed 18 memorandums of understanding and two letters of exchange. The priority was laid down with a focus on the implementation of signed agreements and acknowledged policies. Besides, they also reaffirmed the commitment to broaden the level of cooperation under the spirit of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Moreover, China and Nepal have agreed to enhance connectivity through ports, railways, roads, aviation and communications within the broad framework of the BRI and the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network which are of strategic significance. As Chinese President Xi put it, “our two peoples have shared weal and woe, and set an example of friendly exchanges between neighboring countries, and we would act to carry forward the traditional friendship and take the bilateral relationship to a new and higher level via his state visit to Nepal.
For sure, nothing is free in the realm of international politics as the realists argue what China and Nepal need from each other are their common geopolitical and geo-economical interests? This kind of inquiry is sensible and also cynical. In fact, historically China and Nepal had been at good terms for a few centuries, and during the British colonial era, Nepal actually acted as a natural buffer state between imperial China and colonial India. Since 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was founded soon after the independence of India, Nepal ended its isolation and forged amicable ties with India and other countries. Initially, Nepal had close ties to India in terms of culture, ethnics and even military affair, but it never accepts external domination. In 1955 Nepal formally recognized Beijing as the legitimate government of China and since then, it has consistently supported China in foreign affairs. Meanwhile, China has offered economic aid to Nepali reconstruction in a gradual way.
However, since the 1980s, China has steadily transformed itself into the second largest economy of the world with its alarming manufacturing capability and progressive technologies. Due to this, China has provided more assistances to Nepal and other neighbours to share Chinese public goods, especially in terms of the infrastructure projects and alleviation of poverty. For example, President Xi announced in 2018, “In the coming three years, China will provide assistance worth RMB 60 billion to developing countries and international organizations participating in the Belt and Road Initiative, and contributing an additional RMB 100 billion to the Silk Road Fund.” As a developing country nestled in the heart of the Himalaya, Nepal surely needs to expand its infrastructure through involving itself into the BRI with the view to exploring and finally harnessing its huge potential sources —hydropower—for export.
Strategically speaking, China needs to maintain its border areas peaceful and stable in light of its “NEWS strategy” that means while China tries to consolidate its entente partnership with Russia on the North and pacifying its East coast, it necessarily aims to sustain the BRI projects to the West and the maritime silk route to the South. This is the core of the NEWS strategy initiated by the Chinese elite since President Xi took power. Consider Nepal’s strategic location and political stability, China is sure to promote the bilateral ties as the two previous MOUs were signed in Beijing including to rebuild Chinese—Nepali transit road network agreements. It will help northern Himalayan areas get an alternative transit route and also facilitate the local economics, as much important part of the BRI as the economic corridor between China and Pakistan. Moreover, since 2016, a freight rail line was even completed linking Lanzhou, a heavy industrial city in the West of China through Xigaze in Tibet, down to the capital of Nepal. This is a truly strategic pivot of the grand BRI project.
To that end, President Xi revealed to his Nepali counterpart Bidhya Devi Bhandari that the two sides should work closely to carry out the construction of a trans-Himalayan connectivity network, and expand exchanges and cooperation in various fields. For her part, Nepali President Bhandari graciously welcomed Xi’s state visit to Nepal and stressed that the rise of China backed up by its modernization drive will help bring benefits to Nepal and promote regional peace and prosperity. In light of this cordiality, the two governments issued a joint statement on Oct. 13, agreeing on more practical cooperation in the new phase of bilateral relations. For a few key points serve to inllustrate that first, the two sides agreed to take the BRI as an opportunity to deepen mutual benefits in arious fields including the Kathmandu-Pokhara-Lumbini Railway Project. Furthermore, cooperation will cover the Zhangmu/Khasa port, the Lizi/Nechung port, and the three North-South corridors in Nepal. Second, the two sides will hold comprehensive discussions to strengthen trade relations, including to take positive measures to increase Nepal’s exports to China and to facilitate Chinese banks to open their branches and other financial services in Nepal. Last, China promises to help Nepal shake off the status of being a least developed country and achieve the sustainable development goals in the next two decades.
Since states are committed to each other by the nature of the world in which they exist, any close cooperation between China and Nepal is never bilateral only, that means there is always local, regional and international concerns, suspicions and even hostilities towards either China or Nepal or both. Geopolitically, India is the first power, understandably, to feel uncomfortable if not angry. This is the reason why President Xi made his first trip to India prior to his state visit to Nepal, and held comprehensive talks with Indian Prime Minister Modi. Second, China and Nepal also need to coordinate each other deftly to convince other neighbours such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh that any sort of their cooperation would never be exclusive but inclusive and open all others in the South Asia. Geo-economically, China has reiterated that it would not seek to use its economic or financial leverages to “dictate” the local affairs of the recipient countries. Meanwhile, Chinese companies also need to move in prudently and read the local laws and political norms before jumping into the businesses.
Xi has frequently said, China is the largest developing country and also a learning country all the time. In order to promote China’s strategy to link the countries involved, mutual respect and equality are the prior condition to the long-term cooperation. In light of this, it is expected that Xi’s state visit to Nepal, the first one by a president of China over the past 26 years, will unlock new strategic opportunities for bilateral relations, as well as positively promote their ties with India by understanding the prospects for trilateral cooperation. It is clear that Chinese-Nepali economic integration through BRI is unstoppable, so it is sensible for India and the others in the region to take the opportunity to extend the proposed high-speed railway between those two all the way south to the nearby West Bengal port of Kolkata to more closely tie the three together in a system of complex economic interdependence. This is a balanced approach to prevent an open rivalry between the key member states of the BRICS and the SCO over their common neighbors. Given this, Xi’s visit to both India and Nepal might be the very time to enhance the trilateral understanding among Nepal with its giant neighbor. To that end, Nepal, though a much smaller state compared to China and India, could play positively a role as the bridge for building a more trust-based relationship across this region.
China has showed its willingness to share with Nepal its development experiences, practices and inclusive economic governance approaches. In doing so, geopolitical factors should never be the obstacles for China-Nepal cooperation. Rather, Nepal could serve as a dynamic bridge between China and India, and China and South Asia.
Pro-Communism warping Hong Kong
The latest turmoil in the Covid-ridden strata of mainland China is not servile to any pandemic, however, the issue has been one of the most queer and rare kinds, enough to be classified as one of the endemic issues in the global affairs. The tension at helm is the chaos following the announcement of a “New Security Law” by the Chinese regime which is being eyed as one of the monumental events of this decade; slicing off a sliver of attention from the deadly Corona virus that continues to exponentiate around the world in its second wave and sporadic variants.
The law that set out by the Chinese lawmakers back on 22nd May 2020, threatens the liberties of subversion and sedition enjoyed by the citizens of Hong Kong under a constitution. Simplistically named “Basic Law”, it aims to tame the country scaffolded by the “One country, Two systems” framework since the power handover by the former colony to China back in 1997. This act came around amidst strained economic relations between the two superpowers of the world; China and USA, each passing the baton in the blame game of who sustains the blood-crown of the catastrophe impending on the world courtesy of the lethal virus that engulfs every periphery in each continent on the globe. The matters seem complex at sight and a glimpse to the historical timeline of how riddled the relations were could hint at how strained they could reach.
The colony, known as ‘Hong Kong’ today, had been the battle ground, figuratively, to the major competitors of the 20th century: The Great Britain and China. The British dominated the colony for more than 150 years, tracing back to the late 19th century; leasing the territory for the span to morph it into the modernised metropolis marking it as the hub we know today. In 1997, an agreement was reached via an accord, ‘The Sino-British Joint Declaration‘ between the two sides. The treaty allowed Hong Kong a semi-autonomous status, that is, relaying self-sufficiency in all the national domains except in defence and foreign affairs. The allotted autonomy arches under the sovereignty of China until year 2047, henceforward melding into the mainland China as harkened by the Chinese hegemony over decades.
Despite of the granted protection of Hong Kong’s own legislation, borders and freedom of speech, the liberties have been trampled on by the Chinese government over the last couple of decades. A similar law abolishing the right to sedition was initiated in 2003 yet mass protests calling out up and about 50,000 citizens impeded the efforts that went futile and drastically ended up being shunned for good. The Communist party under the wings of Chinese president Xi Jinping have expounded further in tightening their talons on the city since 2012 as efforts were made to corrode the educational system of the country via meddling with the curriculum, biasing the foundation to hail Chinese communism. These acts were proactive reactions to the advances of the United States forging relations with the city. China even tried to manipulate the elections in 2014, tampering with the selection their Chief Executive leading to a 3-month long protest known as the ‘Umbrella movement’ and ultimate downfall of Hong Kong’s autonomous political system.
The security law falls in tandem to the events of 2019; the legislation allowing the convicts from Hong Kong to be extradited in China causing a rave of fear of a massive tactical crackdown of the Anti-communist activists of Hong Kong, sighting it just as ruse to underwhelm the right of sedition of the people of Hong Kong. The Law passed by the parliament notions to only one thing; The ultimate end to Hong Kong. The lawmakers in China, hailing from the National People’s Congress (NPC), sight this move as extricating a threat to the national security and stability of the country while many of the pro-activists in Hong Kong deem the law as betrayal, accusing China of walking back on its promise of high-degree autonomy and freedom of speech, marking it as the final straw, the last struggle before the country could override the laws in the city and indirectly, transition from the entity holding the right to veto the laws to now gripping the law altogether.
Despite of the speculated protests to spark like the history dictates, many of the sage minds predict either a relatively dormant demonstrations or none at all, having a tint of finality in the statement shote the protests are “high stake in risk and repression”. The recent arrest of the leading activists of Hong Kong standing up to voice their disdain to the separatist efforts of China further solidify the notion. Despite of a global condemnation to the new law, the efforts of China resume to subdue any opposition in Honk Kong no matter how sparse. Foreseeing no way out for Hong Kong this time; the Covid-19 paralysis the United States in its own crisis and the legislature inclining towards the Chinese pressure, a complete erasure of Hong Kong is sighted and could not be restrained- for better or for worse.
The Belligerent Chinese Diplomacy and Its Failure
The Chinese media has recently reported of Xi Jinping writing a letter to George Schultz the former chairman of Starbucks, the US coffee giant. In the letter, he has requested Schultz to play a positive role in advancing the US-China relations. While head of a major state writing letter to big corporate heads is not a common but not an unusual development either, this letter from Jinping should be seen in a relevant context. It indicates a certain amount of desperation and difficulty of China in its dealings with the US.
It suggests that after months of aggressive posturing and verbal duels against Trump, the State Department and Pentagon, China is now cosying up to the new Joe Biden administration. Further, it also means the recent Chinese aggressive posturing, wolf diplomacy has failed to bring in the desired results and that the Xi Jinping-led CCP is under more pressure now to soft-pedal the recent acrimonious ties between the two.
The year 2020 had been a very disappointing and calamitous year for the world. And Corona pandemic could well be cited as the most important reason. While the world as a whole has struggled to fight this unknown enemy individually as well as collectively, one country that has been in the limelight, for all the wrong reasons, been China.
Foreign policy and diplomacy is all about protecting and promoting the perceived national interests of a country. While achieving its objectives, the country tries to create and maintain a favourable image in the international community. The Chinese diplomatic endeavour since the ascension of Xi Jinping has been starkly opposite. From the most likely origin of Corona virus, to rebuking leaders, diplomats and media of other countries, China has been trying to create a new diplomatic norm, a new normal where none of the countries would dare criticising China, through political discourse, media or any other way while silently acceding to its territorial expansionary designs.
There have been unusually vitriolic reactions by Chinese diplomats against seemingly innocuous comments or actions by governments, politicians, diplomats or media in various countries. A very rational request by the Australian government to initiate investigations by the international community into the genesis of Corona virus, made China so furious that apart from making crude undiplomatic comments, it even created a virtual political, diplomatic and trade war against the country. Critical comment by certain politicians in Brazil and Japan, led Chinese diplomats to publicly issue personalised attacks against them.
The Chinese ambassador to Sweden has went on to lambast the country’s media in most rustic manner. No wonder, in the last two years, he has been summoned to the Swedish foreign ministry an unprecedented 40 times and there have been demands from native politicians for his expulsion. In India, a country that is being seen as the closest political and military rival by China but is scared of admitting it publicly, the diplomats have kept on reminding the government and media not to play the so-called Tibet card or must adhere to One-China policy by not getting close to Taiwan, have repeatedly been ignored by the government as well as the media.
No wonder, a recent Pew Research study has revealed that globally China has lost a huge amount of goodwill. A significantly very high majority of natives in nine of the advanced economies like the US, UK, Germany, Australia, South Korea, Sweden, Netherlands think negatively of China. Australia (81%), UK (74%), Sweden (85%), Netherlands (73%) show a very high increase in the negative perception against China, very recently and that has affected their politico-commercial relations too.
With the US, the Trump administration acting aggressively in the backdrop of the November Presidential elections, the Chinese actions of challenging the lone superpower has not helped the country anyway. On the contrary, US has become more supportive of Taiwan, politically as well as militarily, making it even more difficult or virtually impossible to China to even think of occupying the territory forcibly in near future. India that had maintained a cautious approach towards Taiwan till recently, have started enhancing political and commercial relations with the country.
In Asia, its aggressive military designs against India’s northern borders has had a very rude awakening for China. Used to a timid Indian approach since 1950s under Nehru, it never expected the aggressive Indian response that even put its own military positions in Moldo and other strategic positions vulnerable. To further undermine political and military calculations, its adversaries in South China seas like Vietnam, Indonesia and Philippines today are in advance negotiations with India to secure sophisticated missiles and armaments.
A very significant strategic development in the form of QUAD has taken the preliminary shape and that whenever gets in a concrete form, could well portend an ominous future for China, politically and militarily. The belligerent Chinese behaviour, especially since the onset of Corona virus has brought India, Australia, the US and Japan very close. With talks of Vietnam, Philippines and others in south-east Asia joining it later, the future of a QUAD could well be a security nightmare for China.
In the economic realm, India has reacted sharply too. Being a huge market for Chinese cheap goods and scores of apps till recently, India has not only banished hundreds of apps but has also been working on a mechanism to regulate, control and even stop imports in a number of segments from China. A big share of enormous infrastructural contracts in telecommunications, roads, ports, airports and railways in India too, have become difficult for Chinese companies. And taking a leaf out of India, the US and other countries too, are making it difficult for Chinese organisations to secure big contracts in their respective countries.
Over the next few years, China is going to lose a huge chunk of its popular and big market in India while territorially too, it has failed to make any significant gains. Strategically what China wished to see was countries like Japan, India, Australia, Vietnam, US all having disputes with it dealing individually rather than getting together and forming a coordinated and collective political, economic and strategic response against it. And the very opposite has happened. There have been greater and collective political, military and economic coordination amongst all these countries today and most of the strategies are aimed against one country, China.
All these developments including Xi’s letter to Schultz, indicate one point very certainly that Chinese belligerence has backfired hugely. It needs to reorient its diplomacy and political behaviour significantly and if it fails to do so, its position in the emerging post-Covid geopolitical order could be anything but that of an emerging superpower.
The Problem of Uncontrolled Nationalism: The Case of Japan before the WWII
Authors: Chan Kung and Yu(Tony) Pan*
Throughout the modern history of the world, Japan is undoubtedly an interesting country: it went from the edge of becoming a colony to one of few independent countries in Asia before World War II, and after the Great War, Japan even became a great power. From a broader level, Japan’s success at that time showed that Asians were not inherently inferior to Westerners. Unfortunately, Japan which was supposed to be the leader of Asia to a bright future, chose the path fascism and imperialism. Eventually, Japan became the source of the Pacific War.
It is undeniable that from the Meiji Restoration until the early Showa period (the end of World War II), Japan adapted an expansionary policy, which brought deep suffering to its neighboring countries and ultimately dragged itself into the abyss of destruction. When World War II ended, nearly 70 years of development achievements were utterly wiped out by the war.
In this context, an important question we need to ponder is: What led Japan to embark on an expansionary and self-destructive path? At what point in time did Japan’s policymakers start to lose its mind? What can future generations of nations learn from Japan’s tragic experience to prevent the same fate from happening again? As a country that has been entangled with Japan for generations and has a complicated relationship with Japan, these issues are of even greater relevance to Chinese researchers today.
Fortunately, there is actually a fair amount of scholarly research on the subject, and there exist four main explanations. The first is the “international structure theory” most commonly used by IR scholars (especially the realists), and the second, more common among Western scholars, is the “weak democratic government theory. The third is the “Pan-Asianism,” which focuses on the constructivist perspective. Finally, there is the political economy explanation of expansionary policies.
At the first glance, it seems that each of these explanations has its own rationale. Of the four, the view that the navy and the military were increasingly extreme in their struggle for policy dominance is the most possible explanation. However, it seems that each of the four existing explanations can, in fact, be incorporated into a new one, namely, that Japan’s self-destructive expansionary policies prior to World War II were the material manifestation of an uncontrolled nationalism. More specifically, these four explanations answer why the Showa government was unable to control the nationalist forces in the country. On the other hand, however, the question of whether nationalism would necessarily expand without outside interference and lead to expansionist policies was left unexplained.
Because of the natural characteristics of nationalism, it seems to us that there is a natural tendency for nationalism to expand in the course of its development. The main reasons for this phenomenon are not complicated. First of all, nationalism is a group ideology, which means that nationalists have a common goal at the macro level, but the boundaries of national interest are not consistently defined by different individuals. On this basis, because of the unreliability of group rationality, nationalism as a groupthink is prone to overstretch in the course of its development. Moreover, when such currents are not rationally controlled and end up holding state policy hostage, the state tends to follow a self-destructive path of expansionism. Pre-World War II Japan is a classic case in point.
It should be noted that the positive effects of nationalism is not being denied here, but it is crucial that a country’s policymaking process should not be ultimately being a hostage to nationalist forces. The question then, is how to prevent nationalism from spiraling out of control. From an empirical point of view, there are two different directions to prevent nationalism from getting out of control at the macro level: first, to eliminate “group irrationality” in nationalism; Second, to establish a corresponding gatekeeper between nationalism and state policymaking.
The first direction is essential to improve the thinking capacity and cultural literacy of society as a whole. This is a radical way to solve the above problems, and the improvement of the education system is the most crucial part of it. However, for reasons that are easy to understand, this approach often takes too long to implement, and the process is not really controllable. As a result, this approach, while very important, is often insufficient for policymakers.
The second approach, on the other hand, is a short-term solution (relatively speaking). To use the common metaphor of treating a bodily disease, a gatekeeper-kind-of-approach is not to eradicate the disease but rather to prevent it from damaging health amid acceptance of its existence. There are two other ways to establish gatekeepers: one is to establish a mature political system that uses institutional factors to insulate people from the negative effects of nationalism. This is also the more popular approach in developed Western countries. It should be noted that this approach has proven itself to be effective, most notably in the case of the United States, which also has two populist leaders, as opposed to Brazil, where institutional constraints and the resulting establishment have been significantly more effective in containing the negative effects of nationalism on the policy.
The alternative is to rely on a small number of political authorities within society to isolate the scourge of nationalism through the elite’s prestige and quality. Again, this is also an approach that has worked before. The best example is the significant role played by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in the “reform and opening-up” process.
So, which is more effective, institutions or authority? This is not a question that can be easily answered. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, and because every country and society is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
First of all, the main advantage of institutional gatekeepers is that once established, the containment is apparent and fairly solid; however, the disadvantage is that institutions may take a long time to develop and may come at a cost (e.g., the French Revolution). An authoritative gatekeeper’s advantage is its high degree of operability, while the disadvantage is the unsustainability and instability of the individual factor. On this basis, the realization of either approach needs to be linked to local realities; in other words, neither is necessarily successful. However, despite the different possibilities of approaches and paths, one issue is certain: in this day and age, uncontrolled nationalism is still a problem that threatens national interests, and this issue must be given sufficient attention and focus by policymakers.
Lastly, for contemporary China, the case of Showa Japan has another area of critical research value: how to deal with the current international order? History has shown that almost every attempt to challenge the existing international order independently has often ended in self-destruction. Successful transformations of the international structure tend to be incremental. In the case of pre-World War II Japan, the immediate effect of nationalism was to push the Japanese government to place itself on the opposite side of the prevailing international order. Today’s China has certainly not come that far. In fact, as Professor Wang Jisi says: “In those days, Japan was an ‘institution’ in the international order, while China was rejected and discriminated against by the West as an ‘other.’ Today, Japan is still ‘within the system’ of the international order, while China has risen to become the world’s second-largest economy and its military power is not what it used to be, but there is still the question of how China views the existing international order and how to deal with its relationship with the existing international order. ” In dealing with this problem, preventing the negative effects of nationalism on state policy is undoubtedly an important aspect.
*Mr. Yu(Tony) Pan serves as the associate research fellow and the research assistant of Mr. Chan Kung, Founder, Chairman, and the Chief Researcher of ANBOUND. He obtained his master’s degree at George Washington University, the Elliott School of International Affairs; and his bachelor’s degree in University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. Mr. Pan has published pieces in various platform domestically and internationally. He currently focuses on Asian Security, geopolitics in Indo-Pacific region and the U.S.-Sino Relations.
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