Sino-In­dian Bor­der Con­fronta­tion: Na­tional Se­cu­rity Threat to Nepal?

People's Review - - LEADER - BY PRABASI NEPALI

Sino-In­dian Doklam Stand­off: Na­tional Se­cu­rity Threat to Nepal?

Me­dia re­ports per­sist in re­fer­ring to the Sino-In­dian bor­der stand­off in the “tri­lat­eral” “Doklam Plateau” in the “Sikkim Sec­tor”. The bor­der dis­pute is not “tri­lat­eral” and is nowhere in the so-called “Sikkim Sec­tor”. It is squarely sit­u­ated in the Doklam Plateau abut­ting the Chumbi Val­ley in Ti­bet, which is nom­i­nally Bhutanese, but is dis­puted by China. Ten­sions have arisen be­tween In­dia and China be­cause China built a moun­tain road through the Doklam Plateau, which In­dia per­ceives as a strate­gic threat to Sikkim (which it an­nexed in 1975 ), the north­ern Dar­jeel­ing District of West Ben­gal and above all the cru­cial pas­sage con­nect­ing the sub-con­ti­nent to the North-East­ern States (Silig­uri Cor­ri­dor/Chicken's Neck), in­clud­ing Arunachal Pradesh (which China claims and calls ‘South Ti­bet'). There are voices in the Nepalese me­dia which have sounded alarm over the cri­sis in the East­ern Hi­malayas: “God for­bid, if war breaks out be­tween In­dia and China in Doklam, ex­pect it to be long and ugly and to even spread to our coun­try” (Repub­lica, Au­gust 13, 2017). Un­for­tu­nately, the writer pro­ceeds from er­ro­neous his­tor­i­cal premises and does not fac­tor­ize the cur­rent state of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions. Cur­rently, China is busy pre­par­ing for next month's sum­mit of the BRICS group (Brazil, Rus­sia, In­dia, China and South Africa) in China it­self. Both Brazil and South Africa are in tur­moil, and China has a great stake in the suc­cess of BRICS. It is also closely in­volved in damp­en­ing down the Korean cri­sis by rein­ing in US Pres­i­dent Trump. Thus, it will not al­low a mi­nor bor­der skir­mish to es­ca­late into a full-scale bor­der war as in Oc­to­ber 1962. China will prob­a­bly not un­der­take any ac­tion un­til af­ter the BRICS sum­mit, the congress of the Com­mu­nist Party (when Xi will be con­firmed as Gen­eral Sec­re­tary and con­sol­i­date his grasp of power), and above all un­til the Korean cri­sis sim­mers down. If how­ever, In­dia over­plays its hand, and pro­vokes a ma­jor Chi­nese re­ac­tion (as in 1962, which was a re­sult of In­dian mis­cal­cu­la­tion, not of China's as the writer con­tends), it will be a short quick sur­gi­cal op­er­a­tion in­volv­ing only con­ven­tional forces. But these will be very spe­cial­ized and mech­a­nized units al­ready sta­tioned in the Chumbi Val­ley of Ti­bet (sep­a­rat­ing Sikkim from Bhutan) which will over­whelm the In­dian moun­tain di­vi­sions sta­tioned in Gang­tok and Kalimpong. There is also ab­so­lutely no rea­son why Nepal should be in­volved. We should up­hold our pol­icy of strict neu­tral­ity as in 1962 and keep our mouths shut if hos­til­i­ties do break out, even if the In­dian Army mo­bi­lizes the Gurkha Reg­i­ments. There is also no need to panic and no “need to de­ploy our mil­i­tary in the borders with both coun­tries” (as the writer urges). It is re­dun­dant for the coun­try to go on a ‘war foot­ing'. It is in fact ‘war mon­ger­ing' to “take mea­sures to se­cure our airspace by de­ploy­ing our an­ti­air­craft guns in all strate­gic lo­ca­tions.” Our borders and our air-space (in the north, as well as, in the west, south and east) are not mil­i­tar­ily de­fen­si­ble. No coun­try, whether in the im­me­di­ate neigh­bour­hood, nor in the wider world, will come to our aid if we are at­tacked. We can only pre­serve our sovereignty, in­de­pen­dence and ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity by diplo­mat­i­cally keep­ing both our gi­ant neigh­bours at arms length – equidis­tance and equiprox­im­ity writ large – and our in­ter­na­tional bona fides at the United Na­tions (af­ter all we are a ma­jor con­tribut­ing and hugely suc­cess­ful na­tion in UN Peace Keep­ing Op­er­a­tions). Un­for­tu­nately, our politi­cians and diplo­mats have been mis­er­able fail­ures in high­light­ing this con­tri­bu­tion. US-North Korea War of Words: Hope­fully No Es­ca­la­tion There is no doubt that mil­i­tar­ily, the United States is the most pow­er­ful coun­try in the world, whether in con­ven­tional or nu­clear terms. At the same time, North Korea al­though a rel­a­tively small coun­try, can now threaten the con­ti­nen­tal United States with its In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Bal­lis­tic Mis­sile(s) [ICBMs]. Af­ter the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil at the urg­ing of the US last week clamped a com­pre­hen­sive cat­a­logue of sanc­tions on the rogue state, US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump un­nec­es­sar­ily started a war of words with the per­ceived nu­clear en­emy num­ber one. It all started off with a stern warn­ing from Trump that North Korea would face “fire and fury” if it kept threat­en­ing the US. This started an ex­plo­sive dis­cus­sion in the US and around the world as to the pre­cise mean­ing and con­tent of the omi­nous and men­ac­ing phrase. The North re­acted, per­haps play­fully and sar­cas­ti­cally, by say­ing that in mid-Au­gust of this year, it would test fire an ‘In­ter­me­di­ate Range Bal­lis­tic Mis­sile' (IRBM, and not even an ICBM of longer range) in the di­rec­tion of the US is­land ter­ri­tory of Guam in the north Pa­cific, but well short of the is­land it­self, to demon­strate its ad­vances and prow­ess in mis­sile tech­nol­ogy. This was too much of a chal­lenge to the volatile and nar­cis­sist Trump and he vir­tu­ally ex­ploded. The idyl­lic is­land of Guam has a pop­u­la­tion of 162,000 and draws more than 1,5 mil­lion tourists ev­ery year. It hosts two US mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions and 6,000 US soldiers, mak­ing it an at­trac­tive tar­get for North Korea. Py­ongyang has claimed that it would take less than 18 min­utes for its mis­sile to cross the 3,400 km dis­tance over south­ern Ja­panese is­lands and the ocean to the US ter­ri­tory. Guam is equipped with the so­phis­ti­cated THAAD weapons sys­tem which is ca­pa­ble of de­stroy­ing in­ter­me­di­ate-range mis­siles in the fi­nal phase of flight. Trump did not mince his words when threat­en­ing North Korea with mil­i­tary re­tal­i­a­tion. It would “truly re­gret” at­tack­ing the US, and that the US mil­i­tary is “locked and loaded”. At the same time, Trump could not let the op­por­tu­nity pass for self-praise: “We're go­ing to do a great job, don't worry about a thing,” adding “They should have had me eight years ago, or some­body with my thought process” [!] The North's of­fi­cial KCNA news ser­vice, for its part, ac­cused Trump in an edi­to­rial of “driv­ing the sit­u­a­tion in the Korean penin­sula to the brink of a nu­clear war,” call­ing the US “the heinous nu­clear war fa­natic.” Mean­while, China North Korea's key and only ally, has pleaded with Trump to tone down his rhetoric to pre­vent ten­sions from boil­ing over. Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping urged Trump in a phone call on Satur­day to avoid “words and deeds” that would “ex­ac­er­bate” the al­ready tense sit­u­a­tion on the Korean Penin­sula, state tele­vi­sion CCTV re­ported. Xi also called on “rel­e­vant par­ties to main­tain re­straint” and to “per­sist in the gen­eral di­rec­tion of di­a­logue, ne­go­ti­a­tions and a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment” – clearly ad­mon­ish­ing both the US and North Korea. Xi also stressed that “China and the US have a com­mon in­ter­est in re­al­iz­ing the de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula and main­tain­ing peace and sta­bil­ity [there].” Trump Con­sid­er­ing Mil­i­tary Op­tion in Venezuela Trump is also com­pletely frus­trated with the de­vel­op­ment in Venezuela, which is on the verge of im­plod­ing, and where the US has done lit­tle to ease the suf­fer­ing of the peo­ple. The econ­omy has vir­tu­ally col­lapsed in this oil-rich coun­try, and to say there is an acute short­age of ba­sic ameni­ties and medicine is a com­plete un­der­state­ment. The dic­ta­to­rial so­cial­ist pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro is in power be­cause the mil­i­tary still sup­ports him. Trump has not had much suc­cess in the do­mes­tic arena, and in the typ­i­cal stance of a failed politi­cian, seeks to di­vert at­ten­tion from do­mes­tic pol­i­tics through for­eign ad­ven­tures. His hawk­ish pos­ture vis-à-vis North Korea and now to­wards Venezuela is a re­flec­tion of this. Wash­ing­ton had slapped sanc­tions on Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro and some of his al­lies. This only had the ef­fect of con­sol­i­dat­ing his op­pres­sive regime and fur­ther in­creas­ing pres­sure on a hap­less peo­ple. He also branded Maduro a ‘dic­ta­tor' over his at­tempts to crush his coun­try's op­po­si­tion, but this was tan­ta­mount to the pot call­ing the ket­tle black, as his own ap­proval rat­ings were about 39 per­cent, the low­est of any pres­i­dent in mod­ern times. More­over, Trump's own dic­ta­to­rial ten­den­cies can­not be over­looked, and these would have def­i­nitely come to the fore were it not for the ‘checks and bal­ances' of the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. Trump said he is con­sid­er­ing mil­i­tary op­tions as a re­sponse to the es­ca­lat­ing cri­sis in Venezuela, a move the South Amer­i­can coun­try quickly re­pu­di­ated as “crazi­ness.” Trump had dis­cussed the coun­try's po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic cri­sis at his golf club in New Jer­sey with Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son and UN Am­bas­sador Nikki Ha­ley and mulled the pos­si­bil­ity of mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion: “We have many op­tions for Venezuela, in­clud­ing a pos­si­ble mil­i­tary op­tion if nec­es­sary... Venezuela is a mess. It is a very dan­ger­ous mess and a very sad sit­u­a­tion.”

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