We already have a glimpse of the post-corona world order. When the pandemic subsides, the Americans could double down on China. Trump is sure to sharpen his anti-Sinic slurs in the lead up to the presidential elections, whenever they take place. Republicans are also trying to paint Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for the president, as soft on China. As the bipartisan anti-China bias solidifies in the US capital, Biden will be forced into a more confrontational approach to Beijing. Then there are the Russians, who are again expected to meddle in the US elections. Whoever wins, the US-Russia relations will continue to be rocky.
At the same time, the India-US partnership under the Indo-Pacific Strategy will get progressively better, with a clear geopolitical ramification for Nepal. India and the US will increasingly work in concert to buttress the ‘democratic camp’ in Nepal, and China will try to help the communist government in Kathmandu to resist this pressure. And China could do so with Russia’s help. Were it not for the corona pandemic, Russian President Vladimir Putin could have come to Nepal this year. The Cold War-era bunkers in the Russian Embassy in Kathmandu await a new round of China-Russia tête-à-tête.
There is a remarkable coherence between the foreign policy outlooks of Moscow and Beijing, considering their troubled borders and centuries-old enmity. At the moment, the two regional behemoths reckon they have no option but to together push back against the new American designs in Eurasia. They are thus ready to bury the old hatchet. RT, the state-controlled Russian television, is these days dominated by discussions where participants heap praises on China for standing up to ‘American imperialism’ and for coming to the medical help of the likes of Italy and Spain, while the US, the supposed friend of these European countries, had nothing to offer.
The Chinese press has likewise been busy chastising Washington for its supposed failure to save the lives of its own people even while it pushes ‘criminal’, corona-enabling sanctions against Iran and Venezuela. And there are only good words for Russia in the Chinese press. China’s recent military maneuvers in the South China Sea, meanwhile, shows that it is intent on preserving its primacy in the neighborhood, corona or no corona.
When I asked an old China hand in Nepal how the corona crisis would change Nepali geopolitics, pat came his reply: “There is now a clear case for closing the open Nepal-India border. The corona pandemic has clarified that the open border is a danger to our sovereignty.” Such voices will get stronger in the days ahead, and they will find plenty of ears in the Oli government.
Many think the prospect of Russia and China working together to secure their geopolitical interests in South Asia is fanciful. But as the Americans get more and more assertive here, it is only natural for the two to pool their resources to fight against this ‘American hegemony’. In the long run, the curse of geography forces Russia and China apart. But for the time being the calculations of individual strongmen like Xi and Putin will prevail.