China’s hypersonic aircraft would fly from Beijing to New York in two hours


The double-wing plane just aced wind tunnel tests at speeds of nearly 5,600 miles per hour.

By Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer February 26, 2018

A team of researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have tested a hypersonic plane in a wind tunnel to speeds of Mach 7, or 5,600 miles per hour, according a paper published (PDF) in the Chinese journal Physics, Mechanics and Astronomy.

The hypersonic I Plane’s biplane configuration is unique even for hypersonic craft.
China Science Press

The project is led by Cui Kai, who’s part of the Key Laboratory of High Temperature Gas Dynamics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, though the plane is likely a biproduct of research from other Chinese hypersonic programs, too, including those with military ties.

This reported breakthrough comes hot on the heels of other Chinese hypersonic successes, including China’s DF-17 HGV as well as various scramjet test flights and rocket-powered spaceplanes.

The test adds teeth to U.S. Admiral Harry Harris’s warning to Congress that China is looking to lead the global hypersonic arms race. Hypersonic vehicles are considered potential strategic game-changers. The speed would allow for greater global reach, but also could nullify current air defenses. For his part, Cui touted the project’s peaceful uses, remarking in his article that it could fly from Beijing to New York in two hours.

Two Planes Work Better
The I Plane, shown here in a graphic illustrating wind tunnel tests, can reportedly disrupt the sonic booms that would otherwise drag and tumble it during hypersonic flight.
China Science Press

The I Plane (named for its frontal resemblance to the capital letter “I”) has one pair of forward swept wings on its fuselage center line as well as a pair of joined, swept delta wings mounted on top of the rear fuselage (like a giant T tail). This provides increased lift compared to more spartan, single-wing hypersonic plane designs like the Lockheed Martin SR-72 and CASIC Tengyun. That extra lift increases the I Plane’s payload-to-takeoff-weight ratio, though the increased weight of the bonus wings would likely require more powerful low-speed engines. The I Plane’s wings are positioned so that the shockwaves from sonic booms (which can cause turbulence and drag) are redirected to improve flight performance and stability.

TRRE
The turbo-aided rocket-augmented ram/scramjet engine (TRRE) could be the world’s first combined-cycle engine. If it flies by 2025 as planned, it could soon be paving the way for hypersonic near-space planes and single-stage space launchers.
Beijing Power Machinery Research Institute

As further proof of China’s high-speed ambitions, the Key Laboratory of High Temperature Gas Dynamics has another hypersonic breakthrough in the works: a record-breaking wind tunnel that will reportedly begin operations in 2020. It’s designed to produce speeds of up to Mach 36, making it the world’s most powerful wind tunnel, overtaking the Mach 30 LENX-X facility in Buffalo, New York. For reference, a Mach 36 aircraft would fly from China to California in just 14 minutes.

The wind tunnel will also be large enough to hold aircraft models with a wingspan of 3 meters (the world’s largest current hypersonic wind tunnel, China’s JF-12, has a 2.5-meter diameter). What’s more, the ability of Chinese wind tunnel objects to withstand the high temperatures generated by Mach 36 winds would imply significant Chinese advances in temperature-resistant materials for hypersonic aircraft.

China’s hypersonic programs indicate the nation’s getting serious about extending its economic and military reach. In addition to conventional instruments of global military power like aircraft carriers, it has invested in revolutionary technology like quantum communications, exascale supercomputers, and hypersonic aircraft that could reach any point on Earth in a couple hours.

Peter Warren Singer is a strategist and senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He has been named by Defense News as one of the 100 most influential people in defense issues. He was also dubbed an official “Mad Scientist” for the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. Jeffrey is a national security professional in the greater D.C. area.

Source: Popular Science “China’s hypersonic aircraft would fly from Beijing to New York in two hours”

Note: This is Popular Science’s report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.

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Indonesia acquires four Wing Loong I UAVs from China


Ridzwan Rahmat, Singapore – IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly
25 February 2018

Key Points

Indonesia has acquired four units of Wing Loong I UAVs with surface strike capabilities
Aircraft will be inducted with the country’s first composite UAV aviation squadron in West Kalimantan

The Indonesian government has acquired four strike-capable Wing Loong I medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles (MALE UAVs) from Chinese state-owned aerospace and defence company Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).

A contract for the aircraft was signed in 2017, and the UAVs will be operated by the Indonesian Air Force’s (Tentara Nasional Indonesia – Angkatan Udara’s: TNI-AU’s) Aviation Squadron 51 (Skadron Udara 51), multiple sources from within the TNI headquarters in Cilangkap confirmed separately with Jane’s between 22 and 25 February.

Aviation Squadron 51 is based near the city of Pontianak in West Kalimantan, and the unit shares a runway with the Supadio International Airport. The squadron currently operates Israeli-made Aerostar tactical unmanned aircraft system (UAS) equipped with stabilised, gimbal-mounted electro-optic and infrared (EO/IR) sensor for surveillance missions. With the induction of the Wing Loong I, the unit will be Indonesia’s first composite UAV squadron with two different aircraft types.

The Wing Loong I was developed and manufactured by AVIC’s Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute (CADI) subsidiary. It has a length of 8.7 m, a height of 2.8 m, and features a wingspan of 14 m. The aircraft has a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 1,150 kg and a payload capacity of 200 kg.

The UAV is powered by one piston engine, and has a service ceiling of 7,500 m (24,600 ft). It has a maximum range of approximately 108 n miles (200 km), and an endurance of about 20 hours. Payloads that can go on board the Wing Loong I include the DH-3010 search-and-rescue (SAR) radar, and the AVIC Luoyang LE380 EO/IR turret.

Source: Jane’s 360 “Indonesia acquires four Wing Loong I UAVs from China”

Note: This is Jane’s 360’s report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


China spends $279 bln on R&D in 2017: science minister


Reuters Staff February 27, 2018

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s total spending on research and development is estimated to have hit 1.76 trillion yuan ($279 billion) last year, China’s science minister said on Monday, a year-on-year increase of 14 percent.

“China needs to enter the ranks of innovative countries and become a big technological innovation power by 2050,” minister Wan Gang told a media briefing.

“Basic research and frontier exploration is the big lesson that must be done now,” he said.

China has been trying to ease its dependence on low-end heavy industries and to develop less-polluting ways to promote economic growth and move up the global value chain.

The 2017 spending amounts to around 2.1 percent of total gross domestic product, Reuters calculated. This compares with around 2.8 percent in the United States, 2.9 percent in Germany and 3.3 percent in Japan, World Bank data for 2015 shows.

China’s annual R&D spending has risen 70.9 percent from 2012, Wan noted.

China has established dozens of new high-tech industrial parks and incubators aimed at promoting technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and big data.

The country is also investing heavily to dominate industries such as nuclear and renewable energy, high-speed trains and electric vehicles.

Wan told reporters that China was aiming to bring output of electric vehicles up to 2 million units by 2020, double the estimated volume for this year.

Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Eric Meijer

Source: Reuters “China spends $279 bln on R&D in 2017: science minister”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


Norinco’s HJ-11 ATGW looks to have entered service with PLAGF


Richard D Fisher Jr, Washington DC – IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly
23 February 2018

The Red Arrow 11 (Hongjian-11 or HJ-11) anti-tank guided weapon (ATGW) produced by the China North Industries Corporation (Norinco) may have entered service with the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF), images released by the state-owned broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) suggest.

The network recently released video footage showing what appears to be an HJ-11, which has also been referred to as the AFT-11, being deployed during PLAGF exercises at an undisclosed location.

An illustration of the ATGW had been seen on a commemorative coin in early 2011, but the first photographs of the HJ-11 only emerged in August 2017 in Chinese online forums.

Source: Jane’s 360 “Norinco’s HJ-11 ATGW looks to have entered service with PLAGF”

Note: This is Jane’s 360’s report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


Superweaponising China’s defence industry


24 February 2018

Author: Adam Ni, ANU

China may be in the advanced stages of developing a superweapon that can devastate targets at great distances. Photos circulated on Chinese social media show what is suspected to be an experimental electromagnetic railgun mounted on the bow of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy landing ship Haiyang Shan. In stark contrast, the US Navy is winding down its railgun research program, citing budget constraints and shifting priorities.

Soldiers of China’s People’s Liberation Army take part in a military parade to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the foundation of the army at the Zhurihe military training base in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China, 30 July 2017 (Photo: Reuters/China Stringer Network).

At the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress in October 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for the PLA to be completely modernised by 2035 and to achieve ‘world-class’ status by the middle of the 21st century. China is supporting this ambition by developing a variety of ‘game changer’ military technologies, including hypersonic vehicles, anti-satellite capabilities and artificial intelligence-equipped weapons.

A key guiding concept for China’s military modernisation is ‘revitalising the military through technology’, which involves the development of a self-sufficient defence industry. Past efforts at this have struggled because China’s defence industry was inefficient, poorly managed, rigid and unable to fill the requirements of the PLA.

But this has changed over the last two decades due to expanding defence budgets, technological acquisitions and a raft of reforms that focus on making the sector more competitive. China now has the ability to develop advanced fighters, aircraft carriers, new-generation intercontinental ballistic missiles, drones and other advanced platforms. Another indicator of this progress is China’s booming arms exports, which rose 74 per cent from a global share of 3.8 per cent in 2007–11 to 6.2 per cent in 2012–16. While China is still far behind the world’s leading arms exporters (the United States and Russia), it is catching up fast.

Since 2013, China’s defence industry has been subjected to a series of reforms and initiatives that include new guidelines and plans, innovative institutional arrangements and a renewed focus on civil–military relations.

In recent years, Xi has intensified civil–military integration efforts to leverage civilian expertise in accelerating military modernisation. An important goal of this effort is to make it easier for private companies to work on defence projects. In March 2015, Xi announced the elevation of civil–military integration to national strategy, which highlights its importance for military and economic development. He further underscored this by creating the powerful Central Commission for Integrated Military and Civilian Development to provide high-level guidance and oversight. State agencies, such as the State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, continue to do the bulk of the implementation work.

The Central Commission’s most important strategy document for the defence industry is the 13th Defence Science and Technology and Industry Five-Year Plan (2016–2020). It calls for streamlining and targeting investment across core areas, accelerating weapons development, raising arms exports and promoting collaboration between military and civilian organisations.

Another key initiative is the 2025 Defence Science and Technology Industry Plan, which calls for the upgrade of China’s defence science and technology base. This is in line with the Made in China 2025 strategy — a sweeping initiative to overhaul China’s manufacturing industry.

Moreover, China outlined a list of sixteen megaprojects in the Medium- and Long-term Science and Technology Development Plan (2006-2020). These include advanced numeric-controlled machinery, high-end generic chips, integrated circuit manufacturing and techniques, high-definition earth observation systems, advanced nuclear reactors, manned aerospace and moon exploration, and large aircraft. These projects involve numerous companies and research institutions from China’s sprawling defence industry. Technologies developed for every one of these megaprojects would have important military applications in addition to civilian uses.

But despite maturing rapidly over the last two decades, China’s defence industry continues to be plagued by notable weaknesses such as outdated management models, weak governance, corruption, inflexibility and monopoly power. These weaknesses will need to be addressed if the industry is to better support PLA modernisation in the years ahead.

China’s defence industry has matured considerably since the 1990s and China is now poised to shift from a follower to a leader in defence innovation despite several weaknesses. The industry’s ability to develop and produce high-quality equipment and cutting-edge weapons for the PLA will be key to China’s continuing rise as a military power.

Adam Ni is a researcher at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, The Australian National University.

Source: East Asia Forum “Superweaponising China’s defence industry”

Note: This is Australia’s East Asia Forum’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


China sets stage for Xi to stay in office indefinitely


Ben Blanchard, Sue-Lin Wong February 25, 2018

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s ruling Communist Party on Sunday set the stage for President Xi Jinping to stay in office indefinitely, with a proposal to remove a constitutional clause limiting presidential service to just two terms in office.

Since taking office more than five years ago, Xi has overseen a radical shake-up of the party, including taking down top leaders once thought untouchable as part of his popular war on deep-rooted corruption.

Sunday’s announcement, carried by state news agency Xinhua, gave few details. It said the proposal had been made by the party’s Central Committee, the largest of its elite ruling bodies. The proposal also covers the vice president position.

Xi, 64, is currently required by China’s constitution to step down as president after two five-year terms. Nearing the end of his first term, he will be formally elected to a second at the annual meeting of China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament opening on March 5.

There is no limit on his tenure as the party and military chief, though a maximum 10-year term is the norm. He began his second term as head of the party and military in October at the end of a party congress held once every five years.

Zhang Lifan, a historian and political commentator, said the news was not unexpected, and it was hard to predict exactly how long Xi could stay on in power.

“In theory he could serve longer than Mugabe but in reality, no one is sure exactly what will happen,” Zhang said, referring to Zimbabwe’s former president whose four decades in office ended in November, after the army and his former political allies moved to force him out.

Though positive remarks filled the comments section under the pages of main state media outlets like the People’s Daily, the move was not welcomed by everyone on China’s Twitter-like Weibo service,

“If two terms are not enough, then they can write in a third term, but there needs to be a limit. Getting rid of it is not good!,” wrote one Weibo user.

EMPEROR XI

Constitutional reform needs to be approved by parliament, which is stacked with members chosen for their loyalty to the party – meaning the reform will not be blocked.

There has been persistent speculation that Xi wants to stay on in office past the customary two five-year terms.

The October party congress ended without appointing a clear eventual successor for Xi.

However, the role of party chief is more senior than that of president. At some point, Xi could be given a party position that also enables him to stay on as long as he likes.

Xi is currently the party’s general secretary, but not chairman. China’s first three leaders after the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949 all carried the title party chairman -Mao Zedong, Hua Guofeng and then Hu Yaobang. It has not been used since.

“Whether Xi ends up being Party Chairman or just remains Party Secretary doesn’t really matter. What matters is whether he holds onto power,” said Zhang Ming, a professor of political science at Renmin University of China in Beijing.

“Titles don’t matter as much in China as they do in the West. Here what matters is whether you are the emperor,” he added. “In China, ordinary people already consider Xi Jinping to be the emperor.”

EYES ON VICE PRESIDENT

Mao, the founder of Communist China and still held in god-like awe by many Chinese, died while still Communist Party chairman in 1976, having never retired.

State media has also increasingly been using the term “lingxiu” to refer to Xi, which means “leader”. Distinct from the standard usage of “lingdao” for leader, “lingxiu” evokes grander, almost spiritual, connotations.

Mao, for example, was referred to as “lingxiu”, but Xi’s two immediate predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, were not.

In a Sunday commentary on its WeChat account, state television said: “The people love the people’s ‘lingxiu’!”, above a picture of Xi being greeted by an adoring crowd in Sichuan province earlier this month.

The move to lift the presidential term limits is not unexpected. The party has been laying the groundwork for Xi not to have to go.

One of Xi’s closest political allies, former top graft buster Wang Qishan, stepped down from the party’s Standing Committee – the seven-man body that runs China – in October.

Aged 69, Wang had reached the age at which top officials tend to retire. But he has been chosen as a parliament delegate this year and is likely to become vice president, sources with ties to the leadership and diplomats say.

The move is significant because if Wang does not retire, that would set a precedent for Xi to stay on in power too after he reaches what is normally considered retirement age.

The Central Committee also proposed other changes to the country’s constitution, including inserting “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” into the constitution, referring to Xi’s rather wordy guiding political thought that is already in the party constitution.

The constitution will further ensure that party control over the country is not in any doubt, too, strengthening existing clauses about the leading role of the Communist Party in China.

“The leadership of the Communist Party of China is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” Xinhua cited one of the proposed new clauses as saying.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Sue-Lin Wong; Editing by Robert Birsel and Bill Tarrant

Source: Reuters “China sets stage for Xi to stay in office indefinitely”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


Driven by India into China’s arms, is Nepal the new Sri Lanka?


President Xi Jinping and new Nepalese Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli. Photo: AFP

As a new government takes charge in Kathmandu, the geopolitics of the Himalayas may change, the same way it did in the Indian Ocean

By Debasish Roy Chowdhury

25 Feb 2018

“This looks like China, doesn’t it?”

Deputy Inspector General Mandip Shrestha has his chest puffed out as he gives a tour of Nepal Armed Police Force’s freshly minted training academy. A swanky sprawl complete with a helipad, swimming pool, football ground, shooting range, soundproof meeting rooms, giant auditoriums and elegant red brick buildings, the hilltop campus with a sweeping view of the Kathmandu Valley is not your regular government installation in poorly developed Nepal. Shreshta can be forgiven for his house pride.

The campus was a US$350 million gift from China, which built it in two years and handed it over last year to the paramilitary force, which plays an important role in checking Tibetan refugees from entering Nepal. “Apart from the bricks and mortar, they brought everything from China. All the fittings, the furniture, everything,” says a visibly impressed Shreshta as he points to the overhead projector and the desks in one of the many classrooms. “This entire campus in just two years, imagine the level of efficiency.”

The swanky new Nepal Armed Police Force’s academy, compliments of China. Photo: Debasish Roy Chowdhury

Before shifting to the Nepalese Armed Police Force, which was set up in 2001, Shreshta started out in Nepal’s civilian police force in 1995. A different training academy was the buzz in Nepal those days. That year, Devendra Subedi, currently executive director of the National Police Academy, visited New Delhi as the youngest member of a police delegation from Nepal. “I attended the meeting where the Indians first mentioned they would build a new police academy for us. We were all super-excited. For years, that promised academy was the talk of Nepal’s police community.”

Every successive batch would be told about this mega academy where they would soon relocate, leaving behind the cramped and dusty premises in Kathmandu. “Our seniors would tell us about this coming wonder, we would tell our boys, they would tell their boys. Today, no one talks about it. It’s a joke, a very old joke,” Subedi deadpans. “When I retire in a few years, everyone present at that meeting where it was first promised would be gone, and not a brick would have been laid.”

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his first trip to Nepal in 2014 soon after coming to power that year, he criticised the previous government for not delivering on the promises made to Nepal. He and his Nepali counterpart jointly unveiled a plaque of the police academy to flag off the project amid much fanfare. Then it went back right back into the freezer, and the joke was back on.

The academy is among the long list of India’s unkept promises and poor project track record in Nepal, such as the India-funded road projects in southern Nepal or the high-profile hydropower project on the Mahakali river. “This is how India has destroyed its own credibility in Nepal,” says political commentator and writer Yubaraj Ghimire.

Legacy issues such as these have added to the strains in India-Nepal relations in recent years as the small Himalayan country, tired of being pushed around by its giant neighbour is increasingly pushing back. As a new government takes power in Kathmandu, this widening rift puts it on the cusp of a geopolitical transformation as Nepal seeks a hedge in China to counterbalance India’s traditional dominance. Itself looking to tighten its toehold in a strategically important country bordering Tibet as its own relations with New Delhi spiral down, Beijing is equally happy to step in.

A graduate of the academy in action during vote counting in December. Photo: AFP

Hydropower to cement, Chinese businesses are already all around in this small South Asian country. Chinese internet providers are breaking Indian monopoly, Chinese tourists are flooding Nepal, Chinese-language institutions are mushrooming, more Nepali students are travelling to China than to India, and hundreds of Nepali officials are invited to China every year – Shreshta just returned from a year-long military training programme there – as part of an unprecedented charm offensive.

Charm is not the only thing Beijing is showering on Nepal. At US$79.26 million, China accounts for nearly 60 per cent of foreign direct investment (FDI) commitments received by Nepal in the first half of the current fiscal year beginning mid-July 2017. India is a distant second with US$36.63 million, followed by the US and Japan. All this makes India jittery. As China closes in, it severely restricts the clout it once enjoyed in the small countries in the neighbourhood. Nepal is of particular importance as it provides a critical buffer with China.

In this climate of geopolitical anxiety, big-ticket projects can foreshadow strategic trends and intent. China began to invest heavily in Sri Lanka after the civil war there ended in 2009, recently gaining control of a strategic port. In Pakistan, it is building a US$55 billion economic corridor with a port on the Arabian Sea that it may turn into a naval base. In Maldives, where it has been buying islands and building a port, it sent in a naval force last week amid a deepening political crisis after its China-friendly president imposed an emergency.

In a recent interview to This Week in Asia after his appointment as prime minister, communist leader Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli promised to revive the Chinese-led Budhi Gandaki dam project cancelled by the previous government, and stressed the importance of increasing connectivity to the geographically distant China through infrastructure investments in order to diversify Nepal’s options.

A classroom at a school in Kathmandu. Photo: Sarah Zheng

“We can’t forget that we have two neighbours. We don’t want to depend on one country or have one option,” he said. “With a new constitution and completion of elections to the three tiers of government, we have completed our political transformation. As we begin our journey as a federal republic, it’s now time to refocus our attention to Nepal’s economic transformation.”

He expressed appreciation of China’s growth and its ability to “create prosperity” for its people and said he found “the Chinese government interested in contributing to our infrastructure”.

Just two days into the job and still in the middle of a tricky merger between two communist parties and portfolio allocation, he wouldn’t venture any further. But Oli’s fraught relationship with India, Nepal’s pressing need for an economic boost, India’s limited capacity and poor track record, and China’s interest and proven ability in aiding Nepal, all point to significant Chinese participation in Nepal’s economy in the coming years.

Throughout the interview, Oli took care to stress India and China are both important and that Nepal needs to maintain a balance between the two. But Nepal seeking balance between distant China and next-door India with which it has had an open border and centuries-long cultural, economic, political and military bonds, is itself a telling sign of how the power balance is shifting in South Asia.

PAST TENSE

This is 66-year-old Oli’s second stint as head of the government. As prime minister between 2015 and 2016, he crossed swords with India over the provisions of Nepal’s new constitution. India believes the constitution discriminates against the people of the southern plains of Nepal adjoining India who are of Indian ancestry. When Nepal promulgated its constitution in September 2015, India was the only country in the region that did not welcome it and tried to exert pressure on Nepali leaders, who are mostly from the hills, to accommodate the demands of the plains. In the ensuing months, protests broke out in the southern plains, with unhappy minority groups blocking cargo trucks from India, which is landlocked Nepal’s prime source of goods supplies, especially fuel.

Pupils in Kathmandu protest against the Indian blockade in November 2015. Photo: Reuters

Though India never officially admitted it was blockading Nepal, Delhi’s siding with the demands for constitutional changes, encouragement of the border protests, and use of its own border forces and customs to block goods traffic was seen as and remembered in Nepal as an Indian blockade. Coming just months after an earthquake that ravaged the poor country, it amplified the sufferings of the general Nepalis in the harsh Himalayan winter and turned the popular mood decisively against India. It also brought back memories of a year-long blockade by India in 1989 for buying military hardware from China.

Oli approached China for critical fuel supplies and Beijing promptly dispatched tankers carrying 1.3 million litres of petrol. After nearly five months, the blockade began to be slowly lifted in February 2016 as Nepal agreed to a few minor changes in the constitution. Oli visited China the very next month and sealed a number of major pacts, including a transit agreement allowing Nepal access to Chinese sea ports and Chinese loans to build an international airport in the tourist town of Pokhara. Next year, when his government fell just before a planned visit by President Xi Jinping, he blamed India, cancelled a visit by Nepal’s president to India, and recalled the Nepali ambassador to the country, all rare acts of defiance by a Nepali leader against the mighty southern neighbour.

Taxi drivers wait for fuel in Kathmandu during the blockade. Photo: EPA

When Nepal went to elections last year, Oli successfully tapped the groundswell of anti-India sentiment, positioning himself as the embodiment of Nepali pride, the man who stood up to Indian bullying. The strategy earned his Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) 121 seats in the 275-member parliament. Along with the CPN (Maoist Centre), Oli’s Left alliance has a combined 174 seats. The two parties are now working on a merger deal to cement the partnership. China, which has always openly advocated the communist alliance, is rumoured to have played a key role in forging it.

“India virtually delivered the election to Oli, he didn’t need a lot of strategising. Nor did Oli show exemplary independence in knocking on China’s doors. The visceral ultranationalism in Nepal as a backlash to India’s blockade made these choices pretty obvious for him,” says Kanak Mani Dixit, Nepali publisher and writer.

India, he says, in a way even forced Oli to join hands with Maoist Centre leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, popularly known as Prachanda. As Oli knew New Delhi was dead against him as prime minister, he decided to leave nothing to chance and agreed to join forces. Apart from Oli, Dahal is the only other prime minister who has openly dared to go against India and was forced out of office after just nine months. Though India later used Dahal to topple Oli, the relationship between Dahal and New Delhi is just as strained.

India has traditionally played an active role in Nepal’s internal politics. It supported its transition from a monarchy to a multi-party democracy and helped end a decade-long civil war. But it found itself at odds with Nepal’s political elite over the new constitution restructuring Nepal as a federal republic.

“Up until 2006, when the civil war ended and the Maoists joined the political mainstream, India has always had a role in Nepal’s policymaking. But when we started working on our new constitution, the political leadership felt that we ought to take our own decisions and that relations with India should be based on mutual respect and benefit. Trapped in its British-era mentality of controlling Nepal, India didn’t take kindly to it,” says Rajan Bhattarai, a senior leader of Oli’s UML party.

Nepal Oil Corporation tankers arrive carrying Chinese petrol during the blockade. Photo: Xinhua

Photo Nepal Oil

“India wants to micromanage Nepal. They have to control all government appointments, they have to know everything. Their ambassadors behave like viceroys. Aren’t we a sovereign nation?” echoes Kishor Shrestha, editor of Jana Astha National Weekly and a board member of Nepal’s press council, channelling the popular resentment against India’s big brother attitude.

What complicated matters was India’s insistence on creating a separate province for Madhesis, as the people of Indian ancestry living along the Terai plains of southern Nepal are called. Nepalese leaders, on the other hand, wanted to avoid identity-based provinces. India’s demand would create a Chile-like sliver province on the border between Nepal and India.

“Such a province comprising only of people of Indian descent was deemed a security threat as it might want to splinter away in the future, giving India new leverage over Nepal. Why was India pressing for a buffer within a buffer? Nepalese policymakers began to get suspicious. Thus began a spiral of distrust and animosity, deepened by allegations of Indian funding of some Madhesi leaders,” says Geja Sharma Wagle, a strategic affairs analyst affiliated with the Nepal Institute for Policy Studies.

HINDU HEAT

After Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power with an overwhelming majority, the new dispensation in New Delhi also allegedly began to insist that the constitution define Nepal as a Hindu state, or at the least not call it secular.

“[Previous prime minister] Sher Bahadur Deuba and Dahal were told by BJP leaders to drop the secular provision,” says Maoist Centre leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha, an architect of the Left alliance. “But we couldn’t think of a democracy without secularism. A Hindu state logically leads us back to monarchy as the king is a reincarnation of god in the Hindu power structure. So that was out of the question.”

According to Shrestha, this was a far bigger deal for the Modi government than Madhesi rights. “If we had not incorporated the secularist provision, they wouldn’t have enforced the blockade,” he says.

Nepali politicians and the Indian establishment go back a long way. But these associations are largely between the centre-left parties and leaders on both sides. With the very nature of the Indian establishment having changed, with right-wing Hindu nationalists taking centerstage in Delhi, Nepali leaders have found it difficult to connect. “Strident Hinduism is an unknown concept in syncretic Nepal, with a rich tradition of harmony between Hindus, Muslims, Buddhist and indigenous populations. That makes Nepali politicians deeply uncomfortable with BJP’s brand of Hindu identity politics,” says Ghimire.

Promises, promises: Narendra Modi unveils plaque for a police academy that was never built.

According to Dixit, the institutional channels of communication between Nepal and India have also collapsed. “India’s foreign ministry has been pushed to the sidelines and a small coterie of Modi now takes all the decisions. There’s no clarity on what kind of information they are acting on, and who is channelling this information. When we say Delhi, we don’t know if it’s the foreign ministry, the intelligence services, the Prime Minister’s Office, or the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of the BJP).”

Whatever may have been the real trigger behind the Indian blockade, the end result was a very angry Indian foreign secretary “threatening” – by most accounts in Nepal’s power circles – Nepali leaders to delay the promulgation of the constitution “or face the consequences”. This enraged the leaders even further, prompting them to do it all the same, which in turn provoked the five-month Indian blockade.

Going back from here to a working relationship will take a lot of work. For Modi, in particular, because the Nepali public directly associate him with the blockade. “After his first visit during which he delivered a rousing speech on Nepal-India ties – the first few minutes in flawless Nepali – he became wildly popular here, more than any Nepali politician. Then he blew it all with the blockade. That left a deep sense of betrayal here,” says Kunda Dixit, editor of Nepali Times.

“But 90 per cent of Nepal’s trade is with India, so they’ll just have to get on with it. Besides, Oli is not as anti-Indian as he is made out to be. Much of his supposedly pro-China moves such as inking deals with Beijing was plain playing to the gallery. But the blockade undoubtedly created an opening for China to deepen its interests in Nepal, which are basically two – Tibet and trade. It is in particular pushing very hard for a railway connection with India through Nepal.”

Premier Li Keqiang with Oli in March 2016, during Oli’s first stint as Nepal’s leader. Photo: AFP

In his interview with This Week in Asia, Oli said he wanted to have the Qinghai-Tibet railway extended all the way to Kathmandu. China is already working to extend it to Shigatse and then Kyirong, in Tibet, which is close to the Nepal border. Kyirong is about 75km from Kathmandu. “If we can connect this railway network to our east-west rail project, it can revolutionise China-India trade, with Nepal in the middle,” he said.

In fact, the reading in Kathmandu is that trade with India is one of the reasons why China is so interested in Nepal. India has refused to sign on to China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, which Nepal joined last year. Greater connectivity with Nepal automatically drags next-door India into China’s economic network, even if kicking and screaming.

“After all, Nepal is too small to risk or jeopardise a vital, multifaceted relationship between China and India,” says Swarnim Wagle, who has just resigned as vice-chairman of the National Planning Commission of Nepal.

LANKA REDUX

So large doses of Chinese investments are inevitable, especially those promoting connectivity.

Apart from railway, Nepal’s energy ministry this month sent a feasibility report for a 80km cross-border transmission line to the Chinese government that will allow electricity trade between Nepal and Tibet.

“Look at our roads, our infrastructure. There’s popular demand for infrastructure investment. Our debt-GDP ratio is 22 per cent. The average for low-income countries is 43 per cent. We can raise borrowings substantially, but too much of internal borrowing crowds out the private sector. So there’ll be need to look at funds from outside, and China is a natural fit as it’s eager to invest abroad,” says Wagle.

That puts Oli in a similar situation as Sri Lankan strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa at the end of the civil war in the island nation. Hungry for investments and at loggerheads with India, he turned to China. Oli, too, needs to show results and China, visible symbols of its influence. The spate of Chinese loans and investments did help Sri Lanka to break away from India’s control, but it also pulled it into deep debt, making it even more dependent on China. In the process, it helped China gain a strategic presence in the Indian Ocean. Oli now faces a Rajapaksha moment that could radically alter the geopolitics of the Himalayas.

Nepali human rights activists protest in front of the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu. Photo: EPA

Already there are complaints that the Pokhara airport the Chinese are building is vastly overpriced. It was estimated to cost about US$140 million but was contracted to a Chinese company at US$216 million with loans from the China EXIM Bank. As in Sri Lanka, the extra cash has allegedly been used to line politicians’ pockets. There are similar complaints about the way Maoist leader Dahal hurriedly cleared the Budhi Gandaki dam deal with the Chinese in his last days as prime minister.

“South Asia is on a learning curve. Debt trap is a phenomenon that will not be learnt unless experienced first-hand. Poverty and lack of basic infrastructure in South Asian countries are so acute that they are basically desperate for outside investment and resources, and do not really care what happens a hundred years on,” says Nishchal Nath Pandey, director of the Centre for South Asian Studies, a think tank in Nepal.

Wagle differs. The conditions are different, he points out. Sri Lanka’s relations with the Western powers were completely broken when it turned to China. “Nepal has a cosy relationship with the West. Oli doesn’t have Rajapaksha’s unbriddled power. And we know the Lanka story,” he says. “There are checks and balances in Nepal to safeguard against reckless borrowing. If there are red flags, there will be resistance.”

But the biggest China risk, says Geja Sharma Wagle, the strategic affairs analyst, is ignorance about China. “We blame India for everything as we know India so well. But there’s no understanding of how China operates. We need to study their diplomatic and strategic instincts, and how Chinese money is coming into Nepal. Nepali politicians and policymakers have simply given China the benefit of the doubt.

Source: SCMP “Driven by India into China’s arms, is Nepal the new Sri Lanka?”

Note: This is SCMP’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.