Flash­back: Tri­lat­eral Omis­sion

People's Review - - COMMENTARY -

Darn it, they couldn't let our ex­hil­a­ra­tion last a lit­tle longer. When news broke of the sur­prise tri­lat­eral meet­ing be­tween the lead­ers of Nepal, China and In­dia on the side­lines of the Goa BRICS sum­mit, it re­ally felt, well, good, to say the least. Fi­nally, our two clos­est friends seemed to have got­ten to­gether to help us get our act to­gether – and in full pub­lic dis­play. In­stead of con­tin­u­ing their peren­nial turf war over a sliver of mostly stony real es­tate, China and In­dia seemed to have de­cided to join hands to keep the ‘dis­tant bar­bar­ians' out of the arena. The ini­tial de­tails, too, were cred­i­ble enough. Prime Min­is­ter Pushpa Ka­mal Da­hal and Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping were en­grossed in bi­lat­eral talks when In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi sud­denly dropped in. (Of course, you could im­pute any mo­tive here, but let's be char­i­ta­ble for the pur­pose of this post.) The trio con­tin­ued talk­ing as the fourth per­son there, our premier's wife Sita Da­hal, looked on. (Al­though she still had her arms folded, Madam Da­hal seemed a bit more en­gaged with the go­ing­son than she was at Ras­tra­p­ati Bha­van in New Delhi a month ago. More­over, her multi-hued hand­bag on the cof­fee ta­ble sat well with the ad­ja­cent flow­ers and pro­vided a quaint har­mony to both Xi's and Modi's jack­ets and the sofa pil­lows.) Then the next batch of de­tails trick­led in. Xi and Modi re­sponded pos­i­tively to a pro­posal Da­hal had made ear­lier on en­hanc­ing tri­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion among the three coun­tries. Em­pha­siz­ing the need of tri-party strate­gic un­der­stand­ing, Da­hal said Nepal's unique ge­og­ra­phy po­si­tioned it as a ‘dy­namic bridge' be­tween the Asian giants. Modi and Xi agreed, but Da­hal hadn't fin­ished. He seemed to sug­gest that Nepal could help to main­tain cor­dial re­la­tions be­tween In­dia and China. Xi, for his part, praised Nepal's role in main­tain­ing equidis­tant re­la­tions be­tween China and In­dia, while Modi ac­knowl­edged the geo­graph­i­cal, emo­tional and cul­tural re­la­tions among the three coun­tries. What hap­pened? Weren't we told that the Chi­nese pres­i­dent had can­celled his visit to Nepal (sched­uled around this time) be­cause he con­sid­ered our gov­ern­ment too In­dia-friendly, or some­thing like that? And hadn't the In­dian prime min­is­ter con­spired with Da­hal to oust the K.P. Oli gov­ern­ment be­cause it was too China-friendly? Okay, Pak­istani-backed in­cur­sions into Kash­mir pre­cip­i­tate In­dian mil­i­tary ac­tion in­side Pak­istani ter­ri­tory. The Rus­sians seem to tilt to­wards Is­lam­abad as Don­ald Trump as­sid­u­ously courts the Hindu vote in the United States. And what? Xi and Modi sud­denly de­cide to sit in a joint meet­ing with Da­hal? Man, this was nail-bit­ing stuff but also sound­ing too good to be true. Alas, it was. A spokesman for In­dia's Min­istry of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs said that the meet­ing was ‘in­for­mal', en­tirely co­in­ci­den­tal, and just a ‘lit­tle chat'. De­scrib­ing the se­quence of events, the spokesman said that af­ter their bi­lat­eral meet­ing, Da­hal and Xi were wait­ing in the lounge to go to the in­for­mal din­ner. (Gosh, what's with this ob­ses­sion with in­for­mal­ity?) Modi also hap­pened to be there. So, the In­dian spokesman said, there was no rea­son to call it a tri­lat­eral meet­ing. All that high-minded sen­ti­men­tal­iz­ing, nod­ding and el­e­vat­ing of eye­brows amounted to noth­ing? Nah, some­body some­where just cast an evil eye. And, yes, that's be­ing char­i­ta­ble. (Orig­i­nally posted on Sun­day, Oc­to­ber16,2016)

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