Tuesday, 9 March 2010

A new Cold War?

By John Narayan Parajuli

As India and China rise, their traditional rivalry and big power ambition is starting to manifest into an ugly battle for influence in the region. And it is the smaller nations who are facing the brunt. 

March ten marks the fifty first anniversary of  the Tibetan revolt against Chinese rule. China is keeping an anxious eye over the situation. It has stepped up the pressure on Nepal, forcing Kathmandu to deploy armed border guards along its border with Tibet. The country is also tightening its border with India in the South for possible entry of Tibetan dissidents seeking to protest in Kathmandu or further up in Tibet during the anniversary. Tibetan dissidents have accused the Nepali police of initiating a massive manhunt for possible ‘troublemakers’ in and around the Tibetan refugee camps in Kathmandu.

Though the international community has criticized Nepal for its high-handed approach in dealing with the Tibetan dissidents in recent years—especially during last year’s protest- Nepal’s geopolitical paradox and the country’s inability to resist pressures has not been sufficiently understood.

Bold Beijing

Emboldened by its steep ascendancy to the world power, China is making itself aggressively seen and heard on the global stage. Last year China snubbed the French (while they were holding the European Union presidency) during President Hu Zintao’s Europe visit. It was in response to Paris’ decision to throw a welcome mat for Dalai Lama in the Élysée Palace. In February this year, President Obama met the Dalai Lama at the White House amid Beijing’s protestations. Although, the White House itself downplayed the significance of the visit to placate the Chinese, there are already indications from the Chinese foreign ministry that a proposed visit to the States in May by President Hu may now be cancelled or downgraded. America desperately wants the visit. After all, it is the banker’s call.

On other issues, Chinese mandarins are known for their quite diplomacy and hands-off approach, often much to the chagrin of Western countries, who want China to play a role commensurate with its power. But China has remained steadfast to its policy of non-interference in internal matters of other states—and expects a similar gesture from others. This may now be changing.

China’s underbelly

Tibet and Taiwan touch its raw nerve, and perhaps it is the only issue Chinese are belligerently stubborn about. It refuses to tolerate even a slightest accommodation of Tibetan/Taiwanese dissidents anywhere on the world stage, not least in its neighbourhood. Nepal and its northern districts (especially upper Mustang) which border Tibet were used by the Tibetan Khampa rebels as their training and shelter ground during their insurgency in the 60s. The CIA ran bases in the area to provide training and support to the rebels. Ever since its foray into Tibet, Nepal has become a focal point of China’s defence outlook.

Mustang in Nepal was hosting CIA training camps for Tibetan Khampa rebels in the 60s
Back then China was less aggressive about Nepal’s accommodation of Tibetan refugees and dissidents. But since the turn of the century, China has decidedly chosen to pursue a confrontational policy that actively protects its interest even if that means reversing its long cherished policy of non-interference in domestic matters of other states.

It wouldn’t have mattered so much if China was the lone power seeking influence and control in Nepal. In fact the country has become a convergence point for at least four power blocks -India, China, United States and the EU. While the EU and United States have mostly limited themselves to diplomatic manoeuvres, India and China’s interests are more than just diplomatic. In fact the two rising world powers are vying to undermine each other’s influence. China has long been accused of supporting the Pakistanis to fight a proxy war with India. Though Nepal shares no border with Pakistan, the country has long been a battle ground for Indian and Pakistani intelligence agencies. In the upper Mustang, the region that borders China’s underbelly, Tibet, India is keeping a close eye—often indulging in extravagant development projects in a district with less than 9,000 inhabitants.

There are two camps within the Chinese establishment: those who seek to stick to the old policy of quietly moving up the ladder of prosperity, and those who want to flex their new found muscle on the international stage. The latter camp seems to be gaining ground. The paradox of a big power is that you can’t keep your hands off other’s affair even if you wanted to. Being a big power is as much a liability, as it is an advantage.

Mutual mistrust

But China’s renewed interest in cultivating and maintaining strategic assets in Nepal does not stem solely from its expanding prowess. It is equally driven by its reading that India and America are collaborating to foment instability inside Tibet by supporting the Tibetan dissident groups. Nepali security officials partially concur with the Chinese view of India’s increasing involvement with the Tibetan cause. It is this game of one-upmanship that is hurting small neighbours like Nepal. It is a tough balancing act for the Nepali officials.

The titans are increasingly view each other with a wary eye, each suspecting the other of trying to destabilize each other’s sensitive regions. India’s insurgency in the North East and Kashmir, and now the Maoists rebellion poses serious security challenges for New Delhi. As the security forces deal with multiple internal challenges, New Delhi does not want to be caught unaware should China make a move along the disputed territories between the two countries— in the North East of India – which had led to a war between the two nations in 1962.

This jostling for influence and control between the two countries is certainly not limited to Nepal. Bangladesh, Maldives, Burma, and other countries in the region have witnessed their fair share of Chinese and Indian hyperactivity in recent years.

The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the Western block may have ended with the fall of Berlin Wall, but a proxy war of diplomatic manoeuvres seems to be beginning among the two upcoming powers – China and India. Its fury may not have spread across the globe, but it is certainly heating up parts of South Asia and to some extent East Asia. As the two countries accelerate their economic growth, their traditional rivalry coupled with the need to secure energy supplies and raw materials for their industries is only likely to intensify the sub-rosa war into a full blown conflict. Their expanding sphere of influence would increasingly put them on a collision course.

(Image rights: John Narayan Parajuli and telegraph.co.uk)

The Kosmo Blog
The Kosmo is an online magazine, published by international journalism students from all over the world. It's free of charge so just lean back and enjoy! Don't forget to send feedback!

Subscribe to The Kosmo via e-mail
Subscribe in your preferred RSS reader

Subscribe feeds rss Recent Entries


My Photos on flickr

Subscribe feeds rss Recent Comments