THE ROVING DIPLOMAT
CLOUDS OF DISSENT SWIRL
Tensions are running sky-high in many countries in Asia and Africa
The confrontation between China and the US regarding Taiwan is bringing relations between the two countries to the brink of a precipice. China has categorically opposed the sale of sophisticated arms by the US to Taiwan, stating that Washington must fully realise the seriousness, gravity and danger of this transaction.
Reports indicate the arms package contains submarine hunting planes, destroyers, diesel electric submarines and other undisclosed items. It is intended as a defence buildup for Taiwan against the threat from China.
The mainland has issued a clear warning to President George W. Bush about his pledge to do what it takes to protect Taiwan, asserting that American policy makers shouldn’t underestimate China’s ability to resolve the issue. So far, neither nation has shown any sign of backing down.
However, coming on top of the recent spy plane incident and problems over China’s membership of the WTO, the confrontation over Taiwan marks a festering crisis in Sino-US relations with implications for the region’s security.
South Asia is overcast by tension in many countries. The Indian parliament has been paralysed since the arms scandal broke. The opposition has demanded a full debate in parliament with the threat that if this is denied, it will block the passing of the budget.
Tensions ran high with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee challenging the opposition to oust his administration if it can. However, a crisis was averted following a meeting between the two leaders and Sonia Gandhi agreed to allow the debate on the Finance Bill.
Meanwhile, another catastrophe has developed along India’s 6,400 kilometre border with Bangladesh where 16 soldiers of the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) were killed by the Bangladesh Rifles army. There was anger in India that the bodies of the dead Indian soldiers showed signs of torture and that they were returned in a highly decomposed condition.
Nevertheless, both army leaders and the two prime ministers have been quick to resolve the crisis. It seems that the background to this incident lies in Bangladesh’s desire for an early ratification by India of the 1974 Border Treaty. Meanwhile, Bangladesh is facing an internal crisis with a campaign being waged against the government by the opposition, which has taken the form of prolonged strikes accompanied by violence.
Nepal is also facing a crisis in the prolonged attacks by Maoist guerrillas, which has taken a heavy toll on lives especially those of policemen. The guerrillas are apparently well trained and possess sophisticated arms. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has appealed to the guerrillas to surrender.
The Maoist rebels have become a formidable force estimated to have about 25,000 fighters and training camps in the forests of western Nepal. Their tactics have been compared to those of the Shining Path in Peru for the night attacks on villagers and their brutality.
In Kashmir, there is no indication of any headway by the Indian peacemaking team led by K. C. Pant, which has been trying to engage in a dialogue with the Kashmiri groups to arriving at a settlement. These groups have indicated that their participation is conditional on the admission of Pakistan to the talks. The result is an apparent deadlock.
The Middle East peace process, which has been escalating into violence since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon took over, offered a glimmer of hope or respite in the mounting tensions during a recent decision to discuss the Egypt-Jordan Peace Plan. This plan was the outcome of the recent Amman Summit.
The proposal is that Israel should end its blockade of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, withdraw troops from Palestinian cities and settlements, and stop building settlements on land that it occupied during the 1967 war.
These proposals will be discussed in Washington D.C. by Israel’s Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
But the latter has two reservations, which are that there would be no freeze on the building of settlements and the resumption of peace talks would not be from the point at which they broke off with Ehud Barak’s departure from the scene.
At the same time, he has expressed a readiness to discuss the proposal, stating that any offer that can lead to peace and put an end to the violence is welcome.
Africa continues to be the scene of political stress and imminent conflicts, with the current hotspots being Zimbabwe, Kenya and South Africa.