The exquisitely beautiful country of Nepal, which though nestled between tall gigantic countries on all sides, has always maintained its geopolitical significance. But today, this Himalayan country is facing mountains of problems, riddled with multiple challenges of political instability, economic crisis, all amidst a severe health crisis due to the second wave of Covid-19.
Uncertainty looms large as the questions shifted from “Will he/ Won’t he” (Will K.P. Sharma Oli dare to prove his show of strength) to what looks like a game of “Kaun Banega Pradhan Mantri” ( Who will be the Prime Minister?) In a surprising turn of events, both K.P. Sharma Oli and former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba have presented their claims a few minutes ahead of 5 pm on Friday, which was the deadline set by President Bhandari for parties to stake claim to the new government.
The leader of the opposition Nepali Congress (NC) Sher Bahadur Deuba claimed to have 149 signatures. They reportedly are from his party, the NC’s 61 members, 48 from the Maoist Centre (MC), as well as 13 from the Upendra Yadav dissident faction of the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP), and 27 from the Madhav Kumar Nepal faction of Oli’s own Unified Marxist–Leninist (UML). Deuba was confident the support he has is enough to make him Nepal’s Prime Minister for the fifth time.
On the other hand, going back on his refusal to take the floor test again to prove his numbers, Prime Minister KP Oli reached the President’s Residence on Friday afternoon, just a few minutes before Deuba and his supporters, with a claim to have the support of 153 members from his UML party and the JSP. However, considering both the UML and JSP have dissident factions who are in support of Deuba, this claim is yet to be verified.
This present political instability stems from an intra-party conflict within the ruling party itself. K.P. Sharma Oli and senior leaders like Madhav Kumar Nepal don’t see eye to eye on many issues. In general, most of Nepal’s political parties, especially the communist parties, seek to win votes by stoking an ultra-nationalistic fervour and an anti-India sentiment amongst the Nepalis. Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli has meticulously built a perception of a strong ultra-nationalist and has tried to portray himself as a saviour of Nepalis who will safeguard their sovereignty and national interests. The current political upheaval comes as an unwanted extra for the Nepalese believed to be the doing of an egoist, authoritarian and assertive Prime Minister Oli.
The influence of the Northern and Southern neighbours on Kathmandu’s politics is quite evident. In recent times it has been observed that while the Chinese hand is clearly visible in Nepal’s political crisis, India always appeared to watch from the sidelines.
China’s pandemic diplomacy was quick to sense an opportunity. While India is busy battling a massive second wave of Covid cases, China is building up ties with South Asian countries through strategic cooperation.
China has been conducting multilateral virtual conferences with South Asian countries including Nepal under its pandemic diplomacy initiative in the last few months.
China has provided grants and assistance to counter Covid-19 challenges in Nepal. Late last month, China had promised Nepal medical equipment and supplies equivalent to 5 million yuan ($780,000) and has also promised to supply 20,000 oxygen cylinders.
As the wise rightly say, there are no free lunches in this world. While China liberally offers aid to unsuspecting nations, these countries are then arm twisted in other ways. The Chinese are accused of micromanaging local affairs in Nepal via the Chinese embassy. The Chinese envoy’s series of meetings with the ruling party leaders and other major political leaders are testimony to this fact. China began to increase its clout concerning all political parties right after the abolition of the monarchy.
Besides increasing its political footprints in Nepal, China is escalating its financial profile as well by investing billions of dollars under its multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative including the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network.
But the real blow by the global bully was in the form of the latest China-Nepal border row which intensified when it was discovered that border pillars had gone missing in Nepal’s Daulkha district, in what is most likely a case of China’s strategy of salami slicing.
To make matters worse, Prime Minister Oli has isolated Nepal from the friendly United States. The US is irked with him after he showed no interest in joining the Millennium Challenge Cooperation (MCC), which was aimed at providing affordable and green transportation, electricity, regional security, peace and development to partners. This is allegedly at the behest of China that calls it a military platform.
Closer to home, since the last two years, Prime Minister Oli has been raising territorial disputes like Kalapani, religious issues like Ayodhya, badmouthing India’s goodwill, engaging in verbal spats on petty issues which led to a huge trust deficit, although India nonetheless provided Nepal with vaccines and timely supplies of medical equipment, and oxygen on humanitarian grounds.
India is keen to have good ties with Nepal, which is quite visible, with Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Nepal, apart from R&AW chief Samant Goyal, Army Chief Naravane, and Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla’s recent visit to improve Indo-Nepal relations. India and Nepal have deep cultural bonds, and it will be beneficial for both countries to have successful bilateral relations. Ultimately, Nepal needs India much more than it needs China.
On the health front, which is another matter of great concern presently for Nepal, the latest scenario is that a deadly second wave of the pandemic is sweeping across Nepal. It is estimated that Nepal’s overall Covid caseload and death toll measure at an alarming 455,020 and 5,001.
This should be a wake-up call for the political powers to maintain balanced bilateral relations with neighbours India, China, and beyond, and handle domestic politics more sensitively. Nepal needs a strong and stable government that can strategically handle all these huge domestic challenges with the help of strong bilateral relations with both India and China. This is the need of the hour.
Rajalakshmi Kameshwar Joshi is a Political Analyst & Mahesh Joshi is an Indo-Nepal Relations Expert.
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RUSSIA WILL ACCEPT CONDITIONAL HANDOVER OF CYBER CRIMINALS TO US, SAYS PRESIDENT PUTIN
Three days before the US-Russia summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday said that the two countries need to engage in a constructive dialogue and establish mechanisms for interaction as there are areas in which Moscow and Washington can cooperate.
“[We need] to restore our personal contacts, relations, establish a direct dialogue, create really functioning mechanisms of interaction,” Putin said in an interview broadcast by the Smotrim.ru media outlet. The President noted that the US side is well aware that there are a number of areas that are of mutual interest, such as strategic stability, regional conflicts, environmental protection measures, and climate. “There are areas in which we can really work effectively,” Putin added.
In the process, President Putin said that Russia would be ready to hand over cyber criminals to the United States if Washington did the same for Moscow and the two powers reached an agreement to that effect.
The Russian leader said he expected the Geneva meeting to help establish bilateral dialogue and revive personal contacts, adding that important issues for the two men included strategic stability, Libya and Syria, and the environment.
Putin also praised Biden for having shown “professionalism” when the United States and Russia agreed this year to extend the New START nuclear arms control treaty.
The White House has said Biden will bring up ransomware attacks emanating from Russia at the meeting. That issue is in the spotlight after a cyberattack disrupted the North American and Australian operations of meatpacker JBS USA.
A Russia-linked hacking group was behind that attack, a US source familiar with the matter said last week.
Asked if Russia would be prepared to find and prosecute cyber criminals, Putin said Russia’s behaviour here would depend on formal agreements being reached by Moscow and Washington.
Both sides would have to commit to the same obligations, he said.
“If we agree to extradite criminals, then of course Russia will do that, we will do that, but only if the other side, in this case the United States, agrees to the same and will extradite the criminals in question to the Russian Federation,” he said.
“The question of cyber security is one of the most important at the moment because turning all kinds of systems off can lead to really difficult consequences,” he said.
With agency inputs
12 killed, 138 injured in gas explosion in China
HUBEI: At least 12 people were killed and 138 were injured in a huge gas explosion in central China on Sunday, state media reported.
A gas pipe exploded in the Zhangwan district of Shiyan city, in Hubei province at about 6:30 am local time. The number of casualties is still being verified as the search and rescue operation is underway. According to the local authorities, 150 people have been pulled from the debris, and the injured are being treated at local hospitals.
Apparently, the explosion destroyed a wet market there and greatly affected nearby residents. “Hearing the loud bang, I immediately scrabbled beneath the table, thinking it was an earthquake,” a resident surnamed Liu, told the Global Times via phone.
Images are circulating on social media, which appeared to be from the scene, showed rescue workers in orange jumpsuits working through the wreckage of flattened houses.
The cause of the accident is under investigation, according to the city government, which informed on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo.
Rescue operation is underway and more details are awaited. ANI
SAUDI ARABIA BARS FOREIGN PILGRIMS FROM HAJJ DUE TO COVID-19
Amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic, Saudi Arabia has once again barred foreigners to perform the Hajj, and set a limit of maximum of 60,000 pilgrims inside the Kingdom.
“Only 60,000 vaccinated residents and citizens living in the Kingdom will be allowed to perform this year’s Haj pilgrimage due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic,” the Ministry of Haj and Umrah announced in a statement cited by Gulf News on Saturday. The Hajj is one of Islam’s five pillars. Every able-bodied Muslim who has affordability tries to visit it at least once in a lifetime.
“Against the backdrop of what the world is witnessing and due to the continuous developments of the coronavirus pandemic as well as the emergence of new mutations, Haj registration will be limited to residents and citizens from inside the Kingdom only,” the ministry also Twitted.
“Muslims between the ages of 18-65 and are fully vaccinated, or those who received their first dose at least 14 days prior, those who are vaccinated and have recovered from a Covid-19 infection are allowed to register,” the ministry added.
This is the second year in a row that Saudi Arabia limits the Haj pilgrimage to Muslims inside the Kingdom. However, only 10,000 Muslims were allowed to perform Hajj last year.
US AND JAPAN DEEPEN TIES WITH TAIWAN, DRAGON FINDS ITSELF IN TIGHT SPOT
The US and Japan have been deepening their engagement with Taiwan to help guard it against a growing threat from China. The move has out Beijing in tight spot.
J. Michael Cole, writing in The National Interest said that the regime in Beijing, which continues its effort to isolate Taiwan internationally, is now in the difficult position of having to express its discontent over coronavirus response while avoiding overreaction that could create the rationale for even closer relations between Taiwan and other countries. Taiwan has had a fairly positive past month in terms of its engagement with, and support by, regional partners.
Beijing’s setbacks began back in April, with the joint statement between US President Joe Biden and his Japanese counterpart, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, which “underscore[d] the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.”
Such direct reference to Taiwan by a Japanese prime minister had not been heard for more than half a century, reported The National Interest. This was followed the next month by a similar statement, this one by President Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which again “emphasise[d] the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”.
The unprecedented reference to Taiwan by a South Korean leader also signalled those countries within the region were becoming increasingly alarmed with China’s destabilising behaviour—particularly the high number of intrusions by aircraft from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and Navy into Taiwan’s southern Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), wrote Cole.
Four days before the Biden-Suga joint statement, a total of twenty-five PLA aircraft–14 J-16 multi-role fighters, four J-10 multi-role fighters, four H-6K bombers, 2 Y-8 anti-submarine planes, and one KJ-500 airborne early warning and control plane–entered Taiwan’s ADIZ, a new high since the PLA began intensifying its military activity in the region in 2020, reported The National Interest.
But now, China is in a tight spot as Taiwan is receiving more attention from allies. One strategic mistake Beijing may have committed earlier this year was its refusal to reduce its military activity around the Taiwan Strait during the transition period in Washington, wrote Cole.
WHO chief asks China to cooperate with probe into Covid-19 origins
World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Ghebreyesus has called on China to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 amid renewed call to further probe the virus.
Dr Tedros made these remarks after taking part in the Group of Seven (G7) summit by video conference on Saturday, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.
The WHO Director-General hoped there would be better cooperation and transparency when the next phase of the probe into the virus’s origin is underway. “As you know we will need cooperation from the Chinese side,” he said. “We need transparency to understand or know or find the origin of this virus…after the report was released there were difficulties in the data sharing, especially in the raw data.”
He further said that the preparations for the probe’s next steps were underway and that the issue of the origin of the virus was discussed by G7 leaders on Saturday, WSJ reported.
Earlier this week, the US and the UK had extended support to a “timely, transparent and evidence-based independent process” for the next phase of the WHO-convened study of Covid-19 origins. “We will also support a timely, transparent and evidence-based independent process for the next phase of the WHO-convened COVID-19 origins study, including in China, and for investigating outbreaks of unknown origin in the future,” a joint statement said after US President Joe Biden met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday.
This comes amid growing calls for a timely, transparent, and evidence-based independent process for the next phase of the WHO-convened origin study.
Recently, the calls to investigate further the origins of the virus have intensified. President Biden has also ordered a fresh US intelligence inquiry into the origins of the pandemic.
The origin of novel coronavirus that caused havoc around the world has remained a mystery even after 1.5 years the first case of infection was reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Now, scientists and world leaders are calling for further investigations to figure out whether the virus originated naturally or leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
G7 NATIONS CALL OUT CHINA OVER XINJIANG, HONG KONG AND TAIWAN
In a veiled criticism of the Dragon, Group of Seven (G&) leaders called on China to respect human rights in its Xinjiang region, allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, and refrain from any unilateral action that could destabilise the East and South China Seas, Reuters reported quoted a draft version of the G7 summit communique.
“We will promote our values, including by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” the G7 said in a communique that was almost finalised.
Before the G7 criticism emerged, China cautioned G7 leaders that the days when “small” groups of countries decided the fate of the world were long gone.
The G7 also said they underscored “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues”.
“We remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas and strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions.”
“We also call for a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based WHO-convened Phase 2 Covid-19 origins study including, as recommended by the experts’ report, in China,” the communique, which is almost finalised, said.
“The days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone,” a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London said.
“We always believe that countries, big or small, strong or weak, poor or rich, are equals, and that world affairs should be handled through consultation by all countries.”
Beijing has repeatedly hit back against what it perceives as attempts by Western powers to contain China, and says many major powers are still gripped by an outdated imperial mindset after years of humiliating China.
UN experts and rights groups estimate over a million people, mainly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in Xinjiang.
China denies all accusations of forced labour or abuse. It initially denied the camps existed, but has since said they are vocational centres and are designed to combat extremism. In late 2019, China said all people in the camps had “graduated”.
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