Lessons and Sound­ings from Madrid and Bei­jing

People's Review - - OP-ED - BY M.R. JOSSE


Last week, some at­ten­tion was fo­cused on de­vel­op­ments in Barcelona, in par­tic­u­lar the de­mand for Cat­alo­nia to for­mally break from Spain. Sig­nif­i­cantly, since last week's piece the Cata­lan sep­a­ratist leader Car­les Puigde­mont's re­gional gov­ern­ment has been fired by Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy, while the re­gional par­lia­ment has been dis­solved and new re­gional elec­tions or­dered for De­cem­ber 21, 2017.


Ra­joy took the dra­co­nian step fol­low­ing the de­ci­sion Oc­to­ber 27 by a ma­jor­ity of Cata­lan law­mak­ers to de­clare Cat­alo­nia an in­de­pen­dent repub­lic, a mea­sure promptly deemed il­le­gal by the Span­ish Se­nate in Madrid which voted 214 to 47 to in­voke Ar­ti­cle 155 of Spain's 1978 con­sti­tu­tion grant­ing the prime min­is­ter ex­tra­or­di­nary pow­ers, in­clud­ing seiz­ing di­rect ad­min­is­tra­tive con­trol over the re­gion and re­moval of se­ces­sion­ist politi­cians. Pre­dictably, while Ra­joy's ac­tions sparked a mam­moth demon­stra­tion of protest in Barcelona, Oc­to­ber 27, on Oc­to­ber 29, there was a hu­mungous show of strength - es­ti­mated by po­lice at 300,000 and 1.1 mil­lion by or­ga­niz­ers, ac­cord­ing to the New York Times - in fa­vor of Span­ish unity. Although in seven weeks the world will know how the po­lit­i­cal chips will even­tu­ally fall in Cat­alo­nia, it may be use­ful to re­call, in the mean­time, that there has, thus far, been no sup­port from the EU for the sep­a­ratists. As per a plu­ral­ity of me­dia re­ports, EU of­fi­cials are wary of help­ing the Cata­lan rebels for fear of en­cour­ag­ing sim­i­lar move­ments in Europe. In fact, the pres­i­dent of the EU Coun­cil, Don­ald Tusk, was quoted by the NYT as bluntly stat­ing, af­ter the Cata­lan par­lia­ment's 'dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence', that: "Noth­ing changes" and "Spain re­mains our only in­ter­locu­tor." As per a NYT news re­port, Oc­to­ber 30, "polls sug­gest that the pro-unity par­ties demon­strat­ing on Sun­day will have an edge in the De­cem­ber elec­tion, though the con­test is close." Sig­nif­i­cantly, as per the Daily News, "of­fi­cials in the UK, France, Italy and the US an­nounced their sup­port for a united Spain." Specif­i­cally, US State De­part­ment spokes­woman Heather Nauert, out­lined Wash­ing­ton's stance, thus: "Cat­alo­nia is an in­te­gral part of Spain and the United States sup­ports the Span­ish gov­ern­ment's con­sti­tu­tional rights to keep Spain strong and united." As far as the US is con­cerned, one has only to re­call its gory civil war to pre­serve the union, to un­der­stand the above out­lined Amer­i­can po­si­tion on Spain's unity, in the present con­text. One may won­der, in the cur­rent cir­cum­stances, what In­dia's po­si­tion is, con­sid­er­ing that - in the past - she has clan­des­tinely sup­ported sep­a­ratist el­e­ments in Nepal's Madesh re­gion. Bla­tant In­dian in­ter­fer­ence in Nepal's do­mes­tic af­fairs is too well known to merit spe­cial at­ten­tion, although the fact of im­pend­ing re­gional and na­tional elec­tions calls for greater vig­i­lance in the mat­ter. Thus far, I have not come across any ref­er­ence of any In­dian sup­port for Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence. One sin­cerely hopes that she has re­al­ized that such a move could eas­ily back­fire with cat­a­strophic re­sults, es­pe­cially if one takes into ac­count such fes­ter­ing prob­lems as Jammu and Kash­mir, and the smol­der­ing fires of dis­sent across vast swathes of In­dian ter­ri­tory, in­clud­ing in her trou­bled North­east.


Vi­tal geo-po­lit­i­cal echoes of re­gional and global sig­nif­i­cance re­ver­ber­ated from the Bei­jing's Great Hall of the Peo­ple for much of last week, the high­light of which was the el­e­va­tion by China's Com­mu­nist Party at its 19th Congress of Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping to the ex­alted sta­tus of mod­ern China's found­ing fa­ther, Chair­man Mao Ze­dong. As per the Wall Street Jour­nal, a unan­i­mous de­ci­sion was taken at the Congress by 2,336 se­lect party mem­bers to re­write the party con­sti­tu­tion to in­clude "Xi Jin­ping Thought on So­cial­ism with Chi­nese Char­ac­ter­is­tics for a New Era," along­side "Mao Ze­dong Thought", writ­ten into the party con­sti­tu­tion in 1945. Sig­nif­i­cantly, it stands above "Deng Xiaop­ing The­ory" penned into the party statute in 1997 af­ter Deng's demise. As the New York Times re­ported it, Xi's el­e­va­tion was achieved, among other things, by Xi's name and ideas be­ing writ­ten into the Party con­sti­tu­tion - a feat that, as the New York Times re­ported it, "so­lid­i­fied Xi's po­si­tion as China's most pow­er­ful leader in decades af­ter only five years of lead­ing his coun­try, mak­ing it harder for ri­vals to chal­lenge him and his poli­cies." China watch­ers also noted that the 19th party congress not only elected a new 376-mem­ber Cen­tral Com­mit­tee, but that it pro­moted many of Xi's al­lies to the body that ap­proved the top lead­er­ship. An­other key com­po­nent of the changes in­tro­duced by the con­clave was that in the un­veiled seven-mem­ber stand­ing com­mit­tee of the polit­buro of the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party there was no clear suc­ces­sor to Xi: none of the other mem­bers of the new body could be con­sid­ered equals or po­ten­tial ri­vals. Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang is the only holdover from the past lineup. So what does all this mean for China and the world? For China, it equips her to seek to shape the global or­der - a propo­si­tion that leaves many un­com­fort­able, in­clud­ing in In­dia, go­ing by fevered opin­ion pieces in its elite print me­dia. While some West­ern schol­ars pre­dict that the era of con­sen­sus de­ci­sion mak­ing in China may be over, as per the NYT, "Xi's vic­tory at the Congress means Pres­i­dent Xi will wel­come Pres­i­dent Trump in Novem­ber more con­fi­dent than ever in his hold on power and the party's sup­port for his more as­sertive for­eign pol­icy."


Clearly, these changes will not only have a pro­found im­pact on Nepal; they will cer­tainly also af­fect Si­noIn­dian re­la­tions in a ma­jor way. One hopes that those in lead­er­ship po­si­tions, in pol­i­tics, the me­dia and academe in Nepal will not fall back on the knee-jerk habit of re­ly­ing on what In­dian pun­dits have to say but do their own in­de­pen­dent anal­y­sis, based on Nepal's - not In­dia's - na­tional in­ter­est. Among other things, I sug­gest that they closely mon­i­tor Pres­i­dent Trump's im­pend­ing visit to China and other East Asian capitals for tell-tale clues.

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