Sunday, 3 May 2015

Geopolitics and the Nepal earthquake.

Last Saturday’s earthquake centred just outside of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, has caused devastation, grief and chaos to the already poverty stricken country. Hundreds of aftershocks continue to plague Nepal, creating large tent cities all throughout Kathmandu and Nepal’s regional areas. With little or no governmental regulation and control over the movement and pricing of goods, prices are starting to rapidly fluctuate. Yesterday there was a large scale protest in front of Nepal’s parliament asking for the resignation of Nepal’s Home Affairs Minister. The Maoist political parties are now gaining support, as they criticise the government for not being appropriately self-sufficient and having to rely on foreign assistance. An abundance of foreign aid donors, including militaries, NGO’s and governments are struggling to get appropriate supplies into Kathmandu airport as the single runway airport is clogged with passengers, unnecessary aid and humanitarian aircraft. Nepal is a mess, and it is only going to get worse for the beautiful landlocked country. 

Although Nepal’s geographical location is a blessing, bringing in millions of foreign tourists, and being a sense of pride and joy for the Nepalese, its geographical position also creates numerous complications for Nepal, making the recovery and rebuilding process potentially complicated and dangerous. Poverty within Nepal has been conveniently facilitated due to Nepal’s geographical location, a buffer state between two rival superpowers, India and China. 

Traditionally Nepal and her people have had more in common and more links with its southern neighbour, India. Religiously, culturally, economically and customarily Nepal resembles that of India. However in more recent years China has stated to make a significant impact within the small country. Chinese investment has been gradually increasing, ties between politicians in Nepal and China have been growing closer, and more and more Chinese products are filling Nepal’s shops. Previously it was India who was welcomed in Nepal, however now Chinese investment and infrastructure is welcomed above that of Indian investment and infrastructure, due to Chinese efficiency and lack of red-tape.

A poor Nepal has suited everyone; India, because a poor Nepal gives India more dominance over economics, goods and politics; and China, because a poor neighbour next to Tibet is better than a strong and prosperous state that has a voice. The decades old insurgency the Nepalese state has had with the Maoist Rebels, can be seen as a India/China proxy war. With China supporting the Maoists and India supporting anti-communist nationalistic political parties, closely aligned to Indian political parties such as the BJP. Arguably Nepal, even if it wanted to, would not be ‘allowed’ to become prosperous, due to large Indian cooperations instantly purchasing small Nepalese businesses as soon as they have market share. Deliberately pushing up prices to maximise profit. India has also deliberately assisted Nepal with its large Tibetan population, deliberately annoying China. As China gains strength in Nepal it has been urging the Nepalese government to have stricter controls over Tibetan populations, restricting their movements, and allowing Chinese agencies to spy on their activities. 

Over the course of the last few decades India has seen Nepal as a ‘poor and underprivileged sibling’, making mockery and degrading comments in relation to Nepal and the Nepalese. It is seen as a country that desperately needs India, too uneducated and improvised to do anything on its own. China speaks up Nepal, telling Nepal of her potential, and what the small country could become. 

Both India and China desire dominance in Nepal due to its strategic location. Who ever ‘wins’ majority control of Nepal will have a regional upper hand and it will benefit them economically, militarily and strategically. Small, fragile and picturesque Nepal is the victim of the rise of the two aggressively expanding, economic superpowers. This ‘competition’ is also seen within Sri Lanka where India and China battle for dominance. 

As a result of last weeks earthquake the ‘India/China’ battle has been intensified, also now bringing in the players, such as Pakistan, Thailand and the United States. The Nepalese government has had significant problems dealing with such a complicated variety of states in the humanitarian relief mission. Due to Chinese pressure the Nepalese government even dismissed a request by Taiwan to send in humanitarian relief and search and rescue teams. 

India was the first country to offer assistance, with the Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi promising to “…wipe the tears from Nepal”. Indian media institutions constantly reported how much Nepal needed India and how India was everything to Nepal. Numerous institutions even explained that Nepal has no ability to make appropriate decisions, thus Indian officials are needed there to manage the relief program. The Nepalese government welcomed Indian aid, and the Indian government was very quick in letting the world know what India was doing. Prime Minister Modi continually stated all that India was doing and how good a global citizen India was. It was his attempt to reach out to the Nepalese people and the government demonstrating India’s dedication to the strategic country. 

However soon after India’s initial announcement the Chinese government announced that it will send in an enormous amount of supplies and professionals to assist in the humanitarian relief mission. The Chinese President stated, “The Chinese side is willing to offer all necessary disaster assistance to the Nepalese side”. Chinese media institutions clearly attempted to demonstrate the professionalism of the Chinese officials whilst intentionally drawing light on the chaotic methods the Indian government may use. China also made it aware that it was working with the Pakistanis in Nepal, and Pakistan sent over a large humanitarian assistance team. 

Both the Indian and Chinese governments used and are using the earthquake to demonstrate their ability to deliver co-ordinated humanitarian relief missions and their ‘passion’ for the Nepalese people, whilst demonstrating to domestic audiences how good a global citizen they are. Thailand has also used this occasion for the ‘legitimacy lacking military lead government’ to gain credibility in the eyes of its population. Emphasising over and over again how much aid it is sending to Nepal, what its troops will be doing, and how important Nepal is to Thailand. Numerous pictures show the Prime Minister in strategically set up photos with the military, just before they were deployed to Nepal. 

When the recovery stage turns into the rebuilding stage, both India and China will battle over who can supply more to the badly damaged and impoverished nation. Most likely, through its economic might, China will come out on top. There seems to be a ‘turning tide’ in attitudes within Nepal towards China, evident before the earthquake. This will mean China could soon have another ‘unofficial’ border with India. How this will affect day to day life in Nepal is unknown, however it could potentially assist Nepal in becoming more prosperous and assist in the much needed rebuilding process. The recent tragedy could also significantly change Nepal, create more tensions in the China/India relationship, thus creating more domestic disturbances.

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