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Thursday, May 25, 2023

Declaration of Federal Republic: Momentous Day Of Nepal’s History

 Yuba Nath Lamsal


It is said that a momentous day rarely comes but comes once in a century. There are a few momentous days in the political history of Nepal. One of such momentous days in Nepal is the declaration of the Republic Day. The day was May 28, 2008, or Jestha 15, 2064 BS. This was the day when the elected Constituent Assembly formally abolished the 240-year-old monarchy and declared Nepal a Federal Democratic Republic. This indeed heralded a new era in the history of Nepal.

With the advent of the 21st century, liberal democracy has emerged as a global political lingua franca. Democracy is the people’s polity. In a democratic polity, the government is formed by the elected representatives of the people and works for the broader interests and causes of the people. This is perhaps the reason why former American President Abraham Lincoln called democracy 'the polity of the people, for the people, and by the people.'  In a true democracy, people feel a sense of ownership over the political system and government.

Freedom is the most desirable commodity for a human being. With the inherent desire of human beings to remain free from any kind of coercion and repression, the concepts of human rights and democracy evolved. Democracy is thus part and parcel of human life, and the concept of democracy evolved along with the development of human civilization. Democracy and civilization have, thus, become synonymous in the contemporary world.

There are different faces and forms of democracy in the world. Democracy is the most used and abused political term in the modern world. In every political ideology and philosophy, the term democracy occupies a special and important space. Even dictators try to defend their authoritarian regimes and legitimise it by calling their system democratic. However, not all regimes are democratic. Democracy has some fundamental qualities like civil and political rights, basic human rights like freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, the rule of law, fair and impartial periodic elections, and a multi-party system, among others.

Nepal’s democracy is relatively young and tumultuous. The Republican system is even younger. Monarchy has always remained a stumbling block in the development and institutionalisation of democracy and the democratic system in Nepal. Nepal had its first taste of democracy in 1951. Even after the dawn of democracy in 1951, the country saw political instability for a full decade. The political instability the country witnessed from 1951 to 1959 was partly the work of the then kings, as the royal palace pitted one party or leader against the other parties and leaders simply to discredit the political parties and democratic system and partly due to the lack of experience and maturity of the political parties and leaders. The kings were partially successful in defaming the democratic polity and ultimately imposing an absolute system in the country. Even during the Panchayat authoritarian system, royalist elements and loyalists of the Panchayat system often tried to gain popular and political legitimacy by calling the Panchayat a democratic system rooted in Nepali tradition and culture. But that was purely farcical. Panchayat crumbled in 1990 in the wake of a popular movement for democracy. Democracy came under assault again by King Gyanendra. As democracy was always the target of the monarchy, people felt it necessary to get rid of it permanently for the sustainability of democracy. It happened in 2008, when the institution of monarchy was formally abolished and republican democracy was established.

Monarchy is a feudal and anti-democratic institution. Monarchy tends to centralise power in the hands of a monarch. People are not considered free citizens but mere subjects. A genuine democracy is a republican democracy. In a democracy, people elect their representatives to rule the country. But the system in which a ruler is chosen hereditarily cannot be called a genuine democracy. In the republican system, the head of state, or president, is elected democratically.

 While we are observing Republic Day with both cheers and hopes, despair also abounds. People have high expectations and hopes that the republican system will bring about a better future, political stability, a developmental paradigm shift, and greater clout for Nepal in the international arena. However, things have not moved as per popular expectations. Political players have not lived up to their own promises made to the people. Thus, frustration is high among the people, out of which some rightist and royalist elements are trying to extract political benefits. But Nepali people always love democracy and freedom more than anything else. Any attempts to turn the clock of history back will not be successful, as the Nepali people are progressive and forward-looking. People will not accept anything that seeks to turn the country backward.

 The republican system we have is the product of the sacrifice of many people. So, this system is definitely going to stay here and get further consolidated as people’s sentiment and sacrifice are closely attached to it. There may be some weaknesses and shortcomings, but they are not the fault of the system. If there are any shortcomings and defects, it is not because of the republican system but such defect lies with those who are responsible for handling the system. 

So, it is not wise to blame the system for the wrongdoing of the leaders. In a democracy, if political players do not live up to the expectations of the people, they always have the chance to be voted out in the periodic election. Democracy always provides alternatives and choices for the people. In a democracy, people are the ultimate arbiters, and they always have the right to reject the bad ones and choose the good ones for the governance of the country. This is perhaps the reason why the Republican system is the best political system. Thus, people need to contribute to the consolidation of republican democracy in Nepal. People have not forgotten how they suffered under the monarchical system in the past. Thus, people need to remain vigilant against any kind of conspiracy by regressive elements. In this lies the stability, prosperity and better future of the country and its people.

 (The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily.)

Published on May 26, 2023 in The Rising Nepal

https://risingnepaldaily.com/news/27287

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Nepal, India Must Exalt Bilateral Ties

 Yuba Nath Lamsal


Foreign policy agenda remained in periphery in the priorities of most governments in the modern history of Nepal. However,  this appears to be high on agenda of the government since Puspa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ took the mantle of premiership third time in December last year. Prithvi Narayan Shah’s dictum ‘yam between the two boulders’ guided our foreign policy for a long time. Given the geopolitical reality, non-alignment has been Nepal’s stated policy stance and the present government, too, pursues. The geopolitical compulsion requires the nation to strictly adhere to the balanced foreign policy especially with our two immediate neighbours.  Non-alignment is, therefore, not our choice but a compulsion about which the present government seems to be cautiously aware. 

Nepal is between two big powers competing for dominant position in the region. This position cannot allow the country to choose one at the expense of other. We, thus, need friendly and cooperative relations with both our immediate neighbours. However, non-alignment does not mean one should remain neutral when the principles, norms and values of international relations and international laws are at stake. In such a case, Nepal has always stood on its principled stance. The recent example is its position on Russia-Ukraine standoff.

Cooperation

Nepal does not have any enemy in the comity of nations but all countries are friends. If we have enemies, they are poverty, hunger, backwardness and diseases. Our entire efforts, therefore, are to fight against these social and economic malaises with meaningful support and cooperation from all our friends in the world, including the two resourceful neighbours. 

Well cognizant of this reality, the government has, in its annual Policy and Programmes, clearly spelt out the foreign policy priorities stating ‘protection of the national interest and adoption of an independent and balanced foreign policy will be the main policy priorities of the government’. It further says: “An independent and balanced foreign policy based on the principles of the United Nations Charter, non-alignment, and the principles of Panchasheel will be pursued, while taking into consideration the paramount national interests”. This is in commensurate with foreign policy fundamentals enshrined in our constitution. On the relations with countries too, the policy statement is clear and explicit. It states that “bilateral relations with all friendly nations including neighbouring countries will be expanded and strengthened on the basis of sovereign equality, mutual respect and benefits.”

With global geopolitical pivot shifting to Asia from the Western hemisphere and sharpening rivalry between our two immediate neighbours, it poses challenges as well as provides opportunities for Nepal. This is an opportunity as we can take benefits from the economic and technological advancements achieved by our two great neighbours. China and India combined have over 2.5 billion population which can be our huge market if we produce exportable items. However, there is also a risk of being caught in their bitter strategic rivalry if we make a slight mistake in handling with these powerful neighbours. 

Countries that share border have boundary disputes. Issues and problems crop up with countries having engagements. Nepal and India are immediate and close neighbours. They share border and have multiple engagements. A landlocked country, Nepal is surrounded by India from three sides. Additionally, these two nations share many common social and cultural values. These factors bring the nations closer and at the sometime they face issues and problems. Nepal has some core issues with her southern neighbour which need to be resolved through diplomatic negotiations in the interest of both the countries. India, too, might have its concerns in Nepal, which Kathmandu needs to listen and try to address without jeopardising its own national interest and also not at the cost of our relations with other neighbour and friends. We have to frankly raise and discuss issues. Only then can a solution be sought. Evading and putting issues and problems under carpet will only give rise to misunderstanding and scepticism that will not be helpful for both countries. 

Nepal’s issues with India are multiple. But the core ones are, among others, the 1950 treaty, territorial disputes in Lipulek and Limpiyadhura, trade deficit and energy trade. The 1950 treaty is the continuation of the Sugauli Treaty but the only difference of the two treaties is that the former was made with the British and the latter with independent India. But forms and contents are almost identical. Communist parties, including the CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre, called it an unequal treaty and demanded its abrogation. But recently, the communist parties have tone downed their voice on the review of the 1950 treaty. Now Nepal has to make its position clear on this treaty. 

The territorial dispute is another irritant that these two countries must resolve amicably. In its freshly unveiled annual Policy and Programmes, the Nepal government has said, “All border related issues will be resolved through diplomatic initiatives while safeguarding freedom and sovereignty of the country.” 

EPG report

The language is pretty soft but message is clear. India’s response is uninspiring. Similar case is with the report of the Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG). EPG prepared its report with meticulous study and consultations, but Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been reluctant to receive it. If the Indian Prime Minister is unwilling to get the EPG report, there is no point in further pursuing it. Nepal can make the report public so that people will know what exactly made Modi not to accept it. In such a case, the government can officially raise the issues the report contains. 

On the issue of territorial dispute and also on the 1950 treaty, the Indian side does not seem to be ready to discuss while Nepali side is reluctant to raise these matters officially and forcefully with appropriate homework. With such lopsided approach, the outstanding issues are not likely to be resolved. Such a situation only complicates relations further escalating the atmosphere of misunderstanding and scepticism which is not in the interest of both the countries. All outstanding issues between the two neighbours must be raised frankly and discussed with good intention and willingness to address them. This alone can create an atmosphere of bonhomie and contribute to resolving the thorny issues. Against this background, Nepal and India are required to elevate relations up from ritualistic level and make them more meaningful to suit the need of the 21st century. 

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. lamsalyubanath@gmail.com)

 

This article was published in The Rising Nepal daily on May 24, 2023

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

By-poll Message To Parties

 Yuba Nath Lamsal

Here goes an African story: Once an aging king asked his son — the crown prince, to go to the jungle and listen the rhythm of forest. Next day, when the crown prince returned, the king asked what he heard in the forest. The Prince said he heard roar of lions and howling of jackals. The king asked him to listen more. Son again goes and carefully listens the hissing and rustle of snake, buzzing insects, singing birds and the beat of butter-fly wings, which he reports to the father king. Still unsatisfied, the king asked the son to listen until he can sense the danger of silence and stillness. To be fit to rule, one must hear that which does not make sound.  

Like the African story, a ruler must sense and understand the message and meaning of silence and stillness in the society. If rulers, politicians and political parties fail to feel the pulse and mood of the people, they are doomed to suffer. In the society, a large majority of the people generally do not react when they react that becomes fatal for the rulers. If people’s silence is taken for granted, it turns out to be counterproductive. Political scene in Nepal seems to be a little offbeat. The danger of silence and under current disgruntlement can erupt anytime like a volcano. The by-election results in three constituencies should be taken as a silent and peaceful reaction of the people towards the established parties. 

Positive change 

People always seek change. Change is the law of nature. Human civilisation has arrived in the present state through constant change and evolution. However, our political parties appear hesitant to adapt to changes. But change should not be only for the sake of change. The change should be progressive that make positive impact on the life of the people and the life of the country. However, that is missing in our politics. The inherent nature of politics is to grab power. The political power is acquired to use for bettering the life of the people and the country. 

However, politics in Nepal seems to be guided more by the motive of misusing power for personal and partisan gains. That is the reason why politics becomes a dirty game of thugs and scoundrels and politicians command least respect of the people. Political parties are losing public trust all worldwide. Nepal, too, is not an exception. However, political parties are the key actors in a democracy. Despite declining public trust, the number of political parties is rising globally. In Nepal, a total of 119 political parties are registered in the Election Commission for the purpose of contesting the election. There are several other unregistered parties. 

Despite drawbacks, there can be no alternative to political parties in democracy. Seeking alternative to political parties is an authoritarian and anti-democratic tendency. Democracy has become a political lingua franca globally. There can be no alternative to democracy. The alternative to democracy is more vibrant and more efficient democracy. There has been deficiency in democratic functioning of political parties. The functions and behaviour of political parties and politicians determine the fate of democracy. In order to make democracy more efficient and functioning and win public trust, political parties must change their behaviour and working style. 

Political parties should be more democratic and democratic exercise must be upheld within parties. Internal democracy within parties is a must for democratic sustenance. Our political parties seem to be federation of different interest groups and power blocs. Blocs and groups exist in a democratic party. In a sense, it is good for promoting internal democracy as such groups in parties instigate debate and discussion on vital issues. But it is not the case in practice. Factions are guided more by the motive of bargaining position and power than promoting intra-party democracy. 

Citizens are increasingly frustrated with the behaviour and conduct of the political parties. In democracy, when a particular political party ceases to represent popular views, people peacefully revolt through ballot papers. When hopes are dashed each and every time, they turn cynical. The present situation is thus the expression of frustration and cynicism that has brewed in the mind of voters. 

When rulers failed to act in tune with the expectation of the people and keep promises given to the people, Nepali people have often sought alternatives. Nepal’s political situation has been in perpetual transition. In the modern history, Nepal saw four systemic changes— in 1951, 1961, 1990, 2006. In 1951, the century old family oligarchy of Rana rule was overthrown and multi-party liberal democracy was ushered in. Under Rana rule, people had been denied not only of their basic democratic rights but also with services like access to education, health care and other basic facilities. Thus a systemic change was brought in. 

After this change, people had hoped that the new democratic dispensation would not only guarantee their freedom and rights but also raise their living conditions.  But the country saw a heightened political instability in the post-1951 decade as parties got mired in ugly political bickering. Even a democratically elected government fell victim to royal conspiracy and coup within a year and half giving rise to king’s absolute regime under the fa├žade of Panchayat. This was the second systemic change. The Panchayat was overthrown in 1990 heralding a multi-party democratic era, which was the third systemic change in Nepal’s politics. 

Sink or swim

The fourth systemic change took place in 2005 that transformed the country from a monarchical system to republican democracy. This happened as people got frustrated with the functioning and delivery of the two key parties of the time namely the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML. The Maoists emerged overwhelmingly in the national political scene of the country. However, the Maoists, too, could not maintain their position and have continued to slide down in strength. Now the Rastriya Swatanra Party has stolen the political show within a few months of its existence but its fate hinges on how it moves ahead. 

Political parties are under crucial test in the eyes of people. People have demonstrated their ire to the established parties in the by-elections. Political parties need to take it as a clear message and accordingly change their working style to win the trust of the people. This is the time to sink or swim for the parties.

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. lamsalyubanath@gmail.com)

-Publisjed on The Rising Nepal on March 10, 2023

https://risingnepaldaily.com/news/26545

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Being Holed Up For 32 Hours In Gorkhapatra Office

 Yuba Nath Lamsal

The journey of 28 years in the Gorkhapatra Corporation is mixed with excitement, turbulence, and challenges. There were days when Gorkhapatra used to be a synonym for a newspaper in Nepal. Many people used to call The Rising Nepal as the Gorkhapatra in English (Angreji ko Gorkhapatra). 

When I joined The Rising Nepal, it was perhaps the only broadsheet English daily in Nepal. So was Gorkhapatra in Nepali. Several tabloids, mostly weeklies, were definitely in abundance in the private sector. Gorkhpatra has a proud history as well as a university of Nepali journalism. Only a few newspapers in our region and around the world have such a long history as the Gorkhapatra is endowed with.

I joined Rising Nepal in the heydays of the panchayat system. Being the mouthpiece of the government, the Gorkhapatra Corporation’s publications definitely carried the government’s views on political matters, which they have been doing till now. But it widely covered social, economic, and other issues. The private media was heavily partisan.

During the Panchayat, political parties and party activities were banned. The Gorkhapatra publication definitely gave the least coverage to political parties and party leaders. But the private papers’ political leanings were visible.

They were mostly against the ruling Panchayat regime and had allegiance to certain political ideologies and parties. Gorkhapatra publications used to face the charge from the private press journalists that Gorkhapatra’s publications were the government’s mouthpiece and did not serve the people. Gorkhapatra publications face this charge even today. I remember one of my colleagues quipping to counter that charge and saying, "The Rising Nepal serves the people by serving the government".

Almost a year after I joined The Rising Nepal, a people’s movement for democracy broke out in the country, demanding democracy and greater freedom. No criticism or critical views were allowed against the Panchayat system, the monarchy, or the royal family. Criticising the king, royal family, and Panchayat system was treated as treason and accordingly punished. Such were the draconian rules. Panchayat used to be called the system rooted and suited in Nepal’s soil, whereas monarchy is the only custodian of Nepal’s sovereignty. Such was the narrative created by the Panchayat regime and its bootlickers.

In newspaper journalism, the print devil often occurs, although it should not always be taken for granted. But print devils used to be dangerous when it involved the news and names of royalties. Those were the days when a slight misspelling regarding the monarchy and royal family was punishable. Once in the advertisement, ‘smoking is injurious to health,' the word smoking was printed as ‘smo king’ separately. When it got printed, an inquiry was made about how it occurred. Journalists and proofreaders used to be alert and afraid.

 The royal palace circulars used to be printed on the upper-right corner of the fourth page of The Rising Nepal. The Royal Palace staff used to directly call the newsroom and dictate the royal palace circular. It was primarily the job of the journalist who was on the ‘Link’ shift, which is to coordinate between the day desk and night desk. The royal palace circular has to be correctly noted down and translated into English. If a slight mistake was made while doing so, it used to be a serious one.

There used to be four shifts at the news desk. Day shift, the Link (evening), the night shift, and the stone shift. Stone shift involves duty after the night shift. One who is on stone shift has to spend the whole night in the office and go home only after the first copy of the next day’s The Rising Nepal is printed. The duty of a journalist in the stone shift is to go through the first copy of The Rising Nepal and ensure that there is no mistake, especially in the news concerning the royal place and royalties.

It was the peak of the 1990 democratic movement. Rallies demanding freedom and democracy used to be a daily phenomenon on the streets of Kathmandu. I was on the stone shift. Generally, The Rising Nepal used to be printed earlier than the Gorkhapatra because, in the wee hours, TRN had less circulation than the Gorkhpatra daily. For some reason, just the reverse happened. The press section printed Gorkhapatra first. 

Thus, the Gorkhaptra colleague in the stone shift could slip away. By the time The Rising Nepal started its printing, the dusk-to-dawn curfew had already been declared. I was stuck inside the office, unable to go home. On the streets, armed soldiers and police had already started moving, and I had no option other than to remain within the office. 

I had to be in the office hungry the whole day and night. I remained holed up in the office for more than 32 hours. The next day, the government lifted curfew for an hour to let people buy essential commodities, and I rushed home. This is one of the most difficult and interesting moments I will ever forget in my long journey with The Rising Nepal.

(The author is former chief editor of this daily.)

 Published on May 7, 2023 in The Rising Nepal

https://risingnepaldaily.com/news/26430

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Communist Parties In Existential Crisis

 Yuba Nath Lamsal


Different communist factions in Nepal marked the founding day of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) on April 22 with tall speeches and statements calling for a broader communist unity. However, their actions and behaviour do not at all match with what they say. Despite their tall talks of communist unity, over a dozen of communist parties exist in Nepal and they are inimical to one another. The NCP was founded in 1949 by five young revolutionaries namely Pushpalal Shrestha, Nar Bahadur Karmacharya, Narayan Bilas Joshi, Niranjan Govinda Vaidya and Moti Devi Shrestha in exile with Pushpa Lal as general secretary. 

Puspalal was the mastermind behind the formation of the NCP. He is therefore regarded as the father of the communist movement in Nepal. This was the time when the communist movement was vibrant globally. The victory of the Bolsheviks ‘s revolution led by V I Lenin and establishment of the communist system in the Soviet Union (now Russia) inspired the communists and revolutionaries all over the world to join and spearhead the revolutions. The post-World War II period saw a wave of national liberation movements across the world. 

Liberation movement 

Our neighbour India had attained independence from British colonial rule in 1947. Similarly, Chinese Revolution established People’s Republic of China in 1949. The political changes in both of our two neighbours and also the national liberation movements across the world inspired Nepali youths for democratic change. Nepal was under Rana’s oligarchic rule. People’s civil and political rights had been summarily suppressed during that tyrannical regime. The communist party was founded with the objective of overthrowing the Rana regime and ultimately establishing a socialist system in Nepal in a similar fashion what Mao Zedong did in 1949. 

The NCP defined Nepal’s social and economic situation as being feudal and semi-colonial and it aimed to liberate the people from all forms feudal exploitation, discrimination and establish ‘new democracy’ in Nepal. The feudal Rana regime was overthrown but it was replaced by feudal Shah Monarchy. Thus, no fundamental change could be effected in the political front as well as in the people’s life. Communist revolutionaries thought that a new and decisive revolution was needed to bring about a systemic change.  According to them, such a decisive revolution was possible only under the banner of the communist party. Despite party’s revolutionary ideas, the communist party was fragile due to weaker organisational base and internal feuds among leaders. The communist party, thus, suffered many ups and downs. 

In the wake of KI Sing’s revolt 1952, the communist party was banned for supporting Singh’s revolt but the ban was lifted in 1954. In the parliamentary election held in 1959, the communist party won only four out of total 108 parliamentary seats, which manifests weak organisational and popular base. The party suffered in the absence of maturity and unity in the leadership. When king Mahendra staged a royal coup, the communist party suffered badly not only because of tyrannical suppression but because of some leaders’ hobnobbing with the king, which divided it. The communist party split as one section of the party supported the royal coup while other group led by Pushpa Lal condemned the coup demanding restoration of dissolved parliament. 

While split is a strong phenomenon of Nepal’s communist party, attempt of unification is also equally important trend. The CPN-UML was created by unifying several communist parties and CPN-Maoist Centre too is another example of unity among different small parties. Three fundamental trends always exist in Nepali politics. They are rightist, centrist and leftist trends. The royalist, regressive and conservative elements are always grouped in the rightist camp, while Nepali Congress traditionally is a centrist force although it often swings sometime towards right  and sometime towards left based on the issues and situation. Despite its stated centrist and social democratic stance in principle, it has vacillated towards far right in the economic policy especially after the 1990 political change.

Politically, NC has gone too left from the time of signing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the Maoists in 2006 till the promulgation of the present constitution. The present constitution is left-oriented constitution and the Nepali Congress is the principal architect of the constitution-making. The communist parties mainly the UML and Maoist Centre represent the leftist trend. Similarly, there are three trends within the Nepali communist movement, too. The first trend is the radical one that champions the use of violent method to overthrow the existing system and establish one-party communist regime. The second is the reform and liberal trend that seeks to use peaceful competition or election as a tactical tool to capture power and introduce radical programmes. 

People-oriented schemes

The third trend is the one that accepts the multiparty system and liberal democracy through which it seeks to go to power and introduce people-oriented schemes.  UML represents the third trend within the communist movement. Maoist Centre falls into second category and this party, too, is slowly following UML’s path. Smaller parties that advocate violent revolution represent the first trend. UML and Maoist Centre are leftist parties and their maximum objective is to achieve democratic socialism something akin to the system in Nordic countries. They no longer follow Karl Marx’s dictum the ‘dictatorship of the proletariats’. Nepal’s communist parties have already abandoned the Marxist way of achieving socialism and communism. 

The general trend in the communist parties is to begin with radical and revolutionary slogans and slowly transforming into social democratic model.  Even the parties that continue to advocate ‘revolutionary socialism’ will one day end up converting themselves into ‘neo-bourgeoisies’.  Presently, UML and Maoist Centre are the two strong moderate communist parties. These parties are vying to secure their space in the parliamentary politics. Given the triangular polarisation of Nepali politics, two strong moderate communist parties will not exist for a long time. So UML and Maoist Centre are in existential crisis as one of them will definitely perish. It bodes well if the leaders of these two parties learn lessons from history and general mood of the leftist voters before it is too late.

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. lamsalyubanath@gmail.com)

-Published in The Rising Nepal on April 26, 2023

https://risingnepaldaily.com/news/25939

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Global Powers Scramble For Dominance

 Yuba Nath Lamsal

International politics is the projection of national power. Parties and politicians seek to gain political power at home, maintain and enlarge it, so do the countries in the international level. Countries that possess necessary capabilities to project and assert power in the international level tend to be hegemonic. This is the nature of state power in the international relations. Greater the power and capability, the more hegemonic and assertive they become. This is the phenomenon of international power politics.

Great power competition is the natural phenomenon, which has been in practice right from the dawn of civilisation. In the race of power projection, some powers, in the course of time, lose their relevance and get thrown into the pit of history, while new ones ascend in the global theatre. This is the process of rise and fall of great powers.  The rise of China is a part of this reality. China’s rise is thus the most important phenomenon of the 21st century’s world order. China is not only rising but asserting in the international system making its presence ever stronger and more visible. 

Polarisation 

With the world getting yawningly polarised into two camps, the United States and China are apparently at diplomatic warfare to have geopolitical and strategic pre-eminence. While the United States is aggressively offensive with building alliances, chalking out strategies one after another aiming for China containment, Beijing is busy building a diplomatic defensive wall. These diplomatic hustles and bustles of the two powers remind of the post-World War II scenario in which the world had seemingly been caught in the cross-fire of international power politics of two big powers. China says its rise is peaceful. But time will tell how long it will remain peaceful. One thing is certain that Asia is becoming a dangerous place as the two power blocs compete for dominance. 

While US is solidifying alliance systems both in Europe and Asia, China, too, is trying to lure European and Asian nations with its tools at hand. The recent China-brokered deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran is a message that Beijing’s clout is growing not only in the economic and trade realm but also in the diplomatic sphere as international peace maker, thereby, enhancing China’s credibility and trust among countries in the Middle East and North Africa region.  It was a definitely a setback to US. 

Similarly, China-Russia rapprochement and deals sealed during President Xi Jinping’s Moscow visit was yet another Beijing’s diplomatic manoeuvre in an attempt to push Washington into the brink. Xi-Putin agreements, and their body language point to the beginning of a new alliance system and world order. This also point to the other fact that the world seeks Beijing to play negotiating role to end Ukraine war and make peace in Europe, otherwise US sphere of influence.  Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s comments makes it clear as he says ‘any Ukraine peace talks must focus on creating a new world order’.

The recent flurry of visits to Beijing by some key European leaders and officials also tell the tale of shifting global balance of power. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited China last November. Then came Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s visit to China followed by European Council president Charles Michel. Only last week French President Emmanuel Macron accompanied by European Commission president Ursula Von Der Leyen made an official trip to Beijing. Their talks with Chinese leaders were basically focused on economic issues but geopolitical issues, including Ukraine war also figured. At a time when United States was effortful in isolating China and strangulating China economically, the caravan of visit by European leaders signifies the enhanced role of China.  

Europe and China have differences over Ukraine war. While Europe was supporting Ukraine militarily against Russia, China has adopted neutral position.  Similarly, China and Russia also have differences on multiple issues. But Russia and China are in one place —that is to alter the US-led world order and create a new one. China is already a big power and Russia is also trying to revive its Soviet era’s glory. So strong Russia may not be in China’s long-term interest. Beijing and Moscow appear closer in the stand-off with the West on some issues. But this bonhomie is a marriage of convenience which may live short. 

Moreover, these two countries fought border war in the past and have history of animosity especially after Nikita Khrushchev’s rise to power in 1976 till the collapse of Soviet Union. The early end of Ukraine war may, thus, not be the core concern of China. The reasons are threefold. In the first place it is in the interest of China if both the West and Russia continue to remain occupied in war. Second, China has benefitted from Ukraine war as it has bought Russian energy at much cheaper price. Third, the prolonged war in Ukraine may create division between US and Europe. The phenomenon is already visible. Some shorts of fissures have erupted within NATO countries. 

Strategic autonomy

France and Germany have come vocally for Europe’s strategic autonomy and lesser dependence on United States for European security. French President Macron said openly ‘Europe must reduce its dependency on the United States and avoid getting dragged into a confrontation between China and the US’. Germany, too, shares similar views. The United States too, may not wish to see early end of Ukraine war because it is in the interest of Washington to keep Moscow engaged in war for longer time. Thus Ukraine war is less likely to end soon because both the great powers want to see it prolonged out of which they want to extract strategic and geopolitical benefits. 

The sheer loser in the Ukraine war is Russia as its strategy badly backfired. While Moscow invaded Ukraine to prevent Kyiv from joining NATO, another Russia’s important neighbour, Finland, hastened to join it and Sweden will be the next European country to be the part of western military alliance. Georgia, too, is waiting an opportune moment to go Finland way. This is what great power politics of the 21st century is. 

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. lamsalyubanath@gmail.com)

Published in The Rising Nepal on April 12, 2023

https://risingnepaldaily.com/news/25273

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Democracy As Geopolitical Commodity

 Yuba Nath Lamsal


Democracy of late has figured as a geopolitical commodity in the 21st century’s world order with the United States and China coming face to face in the bid for enlarging strategic sphere. With Washington claiming to have led the democratic world against what it calls the ‘closed societies’ referring to China and Russia, a new kind of global polarisation or a new Cold War has resurfaced.  

The Westphalian world order that has been in place since 1648 seems to be crumbling, but it is not known what exactly will replace it. In the face off between the existing superpower and the emerging superpower, the US-led Western bloc takes liberal democracy as a tool to malign the China-Russia axis, while China is critical of the Western model of democracy. This is not merely a rivalry between the two big powers but a clash of two civilisations— oriental civilisation versus Western civilisation. 

Fundamental feature

In this unique contestation of international powers, the concept of democracy is the central theme of the debate and dispute. Freedom is the fundamental feature a genuine democratic regime or system must guarantee to its people. There are two district categories of freedom which include ‘freedom from fear’ and ‘freedom from want’. Unless people are practically guaranteed with the ‘freedom from fear’ and the ‘freedom from want’, a regime or system may not be called fully functional democracy in practical sense.  

Freedom from fear begs a guarantee of civil and political rights whereas freedom from want signifies the condition wherein the regime pledges an individuals all basic needs to live and grow as a free citizen. In other words, freedom from want is to guarantee social and economic rights including right to food, right to housing, right to healthcare, right to education, etc. 

The United States and its allies are using liberal democracy as a soft power to enlarge their influence in the world and seek to disparage and demonise China and Russia as authoritarian hawks while China calls Western liberal democracy as a political sham in which money plays greater role in politics than the people. Democracy, in fact, is judged in the ability of the government to ensure both ‘freedom from fear and freedom from want’. The Western liberal democracy focuses more on the former or individual liberty, civil and political rights whereas China calls its system as a holistic democracy that attaches greater priority to the latter or social and economic rights. Chinese scholars are of the view that China has been able to eliminate poverty and ensure sustainable development while the West has utterly failed in ensuring people with freedom from want. In other words, China defines its political system as a democracy with ‘Chinese characteristics’.

Democracy has therefore been caught in the geopolitical crossfire of big powers’ strategic misinterpretation. Civil and political rights including individual liberty, holding periodic elections, right to vote and freedom of expression are definitely necessary and important features of democracy but equally important are the social and economic rights. In the absence of freedom from wants or social and economic rights, democracy cannot be complete and functional. In essence, there are inherent flaws in what have been called as democracies. Similar case is with the system that does not provide civil and political rights. Against this background, the Nordic countries have adopted a mixed model in which civil and political rights are guaranteed with periodic elections on multi-party basis and strong system of social justice. Under social justice, people are ensured with their basic needs including right to healthcare, right to education, guarantee of job, universal pension system and government’s protection for the weaker and needy section including children, disabled and elderly people. The Nordic way could be a better alternative. However, genuine issues and problems of the people have taken the backseat in the present confrontational political trajectory in the world. 

Economic condition determines a country’s intention and position. The rise of economic strength gives rise to strategic ambition of a country that leads to steady military build-up and arms proliferation. Imperial ambition also comes with the economic and military might. Similarly, a country needs strong military power to protect the expanding economic interests and imperial ambition, while the increased military build-up needs to be backed by strong economy. In a way, economic growth and military rise appear to be Siamese twins. If a country’s economy dwindles, it cannot sustain military power. After World War II, British economy was badly bled by war and could no longer sustain its military expenses. Similar case was with the Soviet Union as it collapsed like a house of cards because its economy could not back up and sustain the mammoth military machine.  

Strategic ambition

Now China is the 21st century’s phenomenon. With the rise of economic power, China’s strategic ambition also has risen which is natural. However, the continued military rise needs to be backed by sustained economic growth of which Beijing must be mindful. In the unilateral global order that came to be in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, China’s rise is welcome as unilateral world order is always dangerous for the balance of international power. Economically, China is close to the US and is likely to surpass the American economy soon. But China still lags far behind the United States in terms of military strength and technological prowess. Economic strength alone cannot make a country superpower. A country must be equipped with hard power, soft power, political stability and legitimacy as well as strong economy and technological superiority to be a superpower. 

Some are of the view that the world is heading towards multi-polar order with the US, China, Russia and even India competing in the race of superpower. Given the size and nature of economy, military and technological might, only China at the moment has the potentials to become another superpower. Russia and India are and will remain as regional powers for a few decades to come. The unipolar world is dangerous but more dangerous will be the multipolar world. Thus, bipolar world is better for the balance of powers and global peace. 

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. lamsalyubanath@gmail.com)

-Published in The Rising Nepal on March 29, 2023 

https://risingnepaldaily.com/news/24619