Prof. Dr. Sadmukh Thapa (late)
(Retd. from Central Dept. of Political Science, T.U).
Way back in mid - twentieth century Rupert Emerson had well suggested that “the countries of Asia are not yet nations in being but only in hope”. That was a ringing call to the Asian and more precisely to the Southeast Asian countries to become soon viable nations. As Dick Wilson has in his book Asia Awakes, presumed, the European countries had consumed four centuries to become real nations by degrees, achieving first strong states, then securities and law and order, then the sense of nationalism and lastly democracy. By that standard, our countries have been in hurry to consummate all these conditions and not yet being successful. Explaining the reason behind, Dick Wilson has strongly asserted that our countries here in this region are still “ a quarrelsome collection of small nations politically, economically and militarily vulnerable not only to the powers outside Asia but increasingly also to the Asian competitors in power game- China, India and Japan.”
This imagery fits a poor, weak and backward country like Nepal. Nepal is not weak by fate but by her own misdoings in history. As the saying goes, “History punishes those who come late to it.” Nepal’s geopolitics between Asia’s two giant nations, India and China, has per se enhanced her geo-strategic position in this part of the world. Strategic writers like Perceval Landon, J.P. Cross, Rosenthal and others have aggrandized Nepal’s geo-startegicity to command the whole of South Asia. That was why she was until some years ago sandwiched between five boulders-China Pakistan, Russia India and U.S.A., which would be echoed in Rosenthal’s writings.
We are now just to wonder when and how Nepal with her geo-strategic resources would command this region amid the giants hereabout, except being commanded by them, as has been the go of the day.
Juggernaut Driven by Triumvirate:
Nepal s geopolitics has outreached to invite a trio of powers to impact her course of history. Through the vagaries of time, since the late nineties to the first decade of the 21st century, now, Nepal’s conventional wisdom has been turned upside down. She has ceased to remain squeezed strategically between China and India alone. Her state of volatility has forced the third and greater power, U.S.A. which has shaken the world today with her “unprecedented hegemony”, to maneuver her. But, the yam between the three powers bears a queer equation of power- politics.
The geo-strategic power vacuum in Southeast Asia is such that the candidate great powers of this region and the outside superpower are lured to brace for grabs here, thus heralding an Asian Century dooming the Pacific or American Century of the last era.
Geopolitics is found being played by different players at different times due in this part of the world. Way back in the last century, Tiber Mende had explored the probability of a concert of powers here including India, China and Indonesia. A few years ago, it was Russia’s Pemakov who had suggested an alliance of India, Russia and China. Harvard Prof. J.S. Nye foresees the probability of a cooperation- body including India, China and U.S.A. Likewise, David M. Lamptom-director of China Studies at John Hopkins suggests an alliance of U.S.A. China and Japan. It is also noteworthy that recently in mid August, 2007; the visiting Japanese ex-Prime Minister Sinzo Abe had put forth a novel proposal before his Indian counterpart M.M. Sing that India, Japan, Australia and US make an “alliance for democracy”. This kind of enterprise may have double purpose , to promote collective economic might and to contain China to some extent, from expanding her sphere (of influence) in this region. The dynamics of power games in South Asia at present has generated unprecedented magnetism which has enmeshed India, China and U.S.A. The trio of power has made a combination which rings of the presumption of Prof. Joseph Nye, the author of Power Game, that the geostrategic attraction of South Asia has made it inevitable. Eventually, Nepal has been the chessboard where these triumvirs are staged to play their power games.
Nepal facing Triangular forces:
Nepal has been an epicenter of magnetism towards which the three powers are competing to gravitate- China, India and the U.S.A. For one thing these nations are doing push and pull separately. For another, they are working sometimes in combination. As such, Nepal is pressured (by) among three forces, on one hand and between two blocks of power, on the other. In this case, Nepal poses between China on one hand and India and U.S.A. combined, on the other.
China’s interests in Nepal are a stable, peaceful and prosperous neighbor whose every pinch she has to go through. She wants no disturbances via Nepal to Tibet’s peace and stability. Equally, she does not want separatism to enter the Xinjiang Autonomous Region through this passage. The Free Tibet and Eat Turkmenistan movements have been the formidable factors against China.
Nepal’s geostrategic position, here is comparable to Kyrgyzstan, a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which lies between China and Uzbekistan. It is a buffer, between the East and the West and a hotbed of terrorism, separatism, and fundamental extremism. This country is so vital to China’s interest that she hopes to link the Silk Road through it, with Paris via the Middle-east. Nepal is of no less importance to her, strategically.
China today meets both India and U.S.A. in Nepal. She is wary and aware of India and the U.S.A. separate as well as combined.
India’s Nepal interest is a continuation of the British legacy. India’s strategic umbrella expands from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean. There is also the Indian version of the Monroe Doctrine working over Nepal and the region.
Nepal is to be quarantined from any communist and terrorist influence.
US strategic interest in Nepal has been the containment of China’s sphere of influence in this country, along with Bush policy of following Truman Doctrine here. Strategically the US also meets China in Nepal. Coming down to this moment of 21st century, the strategic scenario in Asia and the world, has changed so much so that the US needs China more than China needs her. Despite this, US strategic policy behooves a trouble-ridden China. There is every danger of Nepal falling a scapegoat to the superpower unilateralism.
Nepal is a crossroad where India and USA both Jointly endeavourer to work together against China. There is a overlapping of interests of both. Since the new millennium, US has found India as a “potential partner of choice” as the Pentagon’s global strategy document entitled ‘Joint Vision, 2020’ has professed. Since 2004, India has been US’s “best friend and strategic partner,” as the latter’s nuclear policy engaged through 2005 to 2007, demonstrates. These two nations together have created a double gravity to pull Nepal away from China’s orbit, thereby reducing the Sino- effect over this country. Nepal has been manipulated as a passage for containment of the Chinese ambition in this region. By being engaged with India, the then Bush government also wanted to contain India, covertly. ( Article written in 2009:Ed).
Since China is now the world’s one of the biggest stakeholders of peace and stability, the US has joined her in a “candid, constructive and cooperative” alliance. The question now, is not whether or not China would be a world power, but how she would impact the world in multiple dimensions. India and China too, from the late eighties, through the joint “Declaration on Principles for Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation” 2003, to the exclusive compact of 11 agreements in 2005, justify Indian PM M.M. Singh’s assertion with visiting Chinese PM Wen Jiabao that “India and China can together reshape the world order”. These two Asian tigers can prove by fusing their hard and soft powers respectively. They are to prove themselves the ‘kingpins of the global powers’. In a way of futurism, one Indian strategist put it that by 2030, there would be only three powers in the world-the U.S.A., China and India. There would be no singular domination whatsoever. But if a choice would come, as the strategist has maintained, India would co-opt with China better for the future peace and prosperity. Suggesting the need of time, Nobel laureate Prof. Amartya Sen of Harvard, has ascertained that China and India must not compete but cooperate and, teach and learn from each other.
Text courtesy: Journal of International Affairs. Vol.1, No.1, April/September, 2009.
Next week: Author’s “Nepal: Dilemma or Opportunity”. Chief Ed.