A tell-tale relegation and an incurious media
KATHMANDU: Amid popular preoccupation with, and excitement over, the FIFA World Cup, 2018 football carnival now well underway in Russia, not very many may have noticed that Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli's ongoing China visit had been relegated from a majestic ' state visit' status to the more plebian one of 'official visit'. Though in a number of previous columns yours truly had been drawing pointed attention to the less-than-enthusiastic fervor in Beijing to the Oli visit, an up-beat assessment had been projected by mainstream media that for days had informed all of its "state visit" ranking. RELEGATION Indeed, Kathmandu Post in an early news item on the visit (June 8) referred to it as a "five-day state visit"; in another story ( June 11), it described it as merely an "upcoming visit". From June 13 onward, all news reports began to describe it as an "official" visit. What is no less intriguing is that in an itinerary of the trip published by the Himalayan Times (June 14), there was no specific mention of any meeting between Oli and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Though I would bet that there will be a courtesy call on the Chinese president, that there was no specific mention of such a meeting therein, or even whether it would take place on June 20 or only on the following day, cannot just be shrugged off. Even more significant is that speculation of a Xi visit to Nepal in the near future - not too long ago, a staple item in public commentary - has fallen off the Sino-Nepalese radar! I leave you, faithful reader, to make what you will of that omission. Only slightly less edifying is that in an op-ed in The Rising Nepal (June 17), a columnist detailed several references to how significant political gestures by Nepal to China in the past contributed to greatly solidifying the bilateral relationship, but then fought shy of confiding to his readers that all the good stuff happened during the Panchayat era, under the auspices of the monarchy! Incidentally, I was equally struck by this fascinating claim: "Under Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, India has stopped blatantly interfering in the internal affairs of Nepal as reflected in the joint statement issued during his Indian visit two months ago." While I stoutly maintain that deeds on the ground are more important determinants than mere words in a joint communiqué, I am puzzled whether he was suggesting that India has only stopped "blatantly interfering" - while continuing to do so in a less-than-blatant fashion? CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER In any case, is it not amazing that the free media in a federal, secular and republican Nepal should be so incurious as not even to educate its readers/viewers/listeners about the possible significance of the relegation of the Oli visit to China from "state" to "official" level? Mind you, even our intrepid reporters covering the Foreign Ministry or sundry so-called 'experts' have not deigned to educate us on this score. In fact, I have not come across any relevant news item that has even reported that, earlier, the Oli excursion to China had been dubbed a "state" visit. Such singularities apart what is most revealing is that, on the eve of the trip, there seemed to be a wellorchestrated attempt to temper expectations by monotonously repeating this mantra: the focus of the Oli mission would be on "implementing past agreements". To my mind, that is simply just another way of saying that there is to be no forward movement on the Sino-Nepal relations front! Has that anything at all to do with assurances that may have been given to India in recent months by Oli? By the by, I couldn't help note a story in Ratopati.com that reported that former Indian ambassador to Nepal, K.V. Rajan, had come up to Kathmandu for assorted meetings just days before Oli's departure for China. A mere coincidence, or what? TRUMP'S S'PORE FLING Here's my take on the historic Donald Trump-Kim Jong Un summit in Singapore, June12, 2018. First, despite it being short on details, North Korea's commitment to working on "complete nuclearlization of the Korean peninsula" can hardly be dismissed off-hand as worthless. Second, Trump's commitment to provide "security guarantees to the DPRK" is equally noteworthy - though this, too, has been anathema to his detractors. They seem to imagine the North Korea would be prepared to, unilaterally, surrender its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles at the urgings of a state with which it has been in a state of war since 1953. Third, Singapore represents very first step in what is bound to be a long and bumpy negotiating road, the major milestones are likely to focus on capping, rolling back, and, finally, eliminating DPRK's complete arsenal of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Naturally, credible verification of the above must go side-by-side with a phase-wide softening and elimination of US sanctions and a tapering off of America's present hostile military posture vis-à-vis Pyongyang, including, at some stage, removal of US troops from South Korea and - eventually - her nuclear umbrella over South Korea and Japan. Fourth, comparisons with the Iran nuclear deal, nixed by Trump, are faulty in that North Korea already has nuclear weapons and the capability to deliver them whereas Iran did not. Fifth, while Trump's triumphant assertions about the success of his Singapore fling are pregnant with hyperbole it can hardly be denied that the rapport seemingly established between Trump and Kim has taken the world back from the precipice of nuclear war. Sixth, nothing was discussed about the human rights situation in North Korea; to have gone down that path would have sunk the summit. Finally, penning this after the 'trade war' initiated against China by Trump, and the titfor-tat response from China, may it not stymie the goal of ridding the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons, given China's close relations with DPRK, including between Xi and Kim?