This week, the two most influential countries in the world will take momentous decisions on their leadership, with far-reaching consequences, in time and space. First, on Tuesday, 130 million registered voters in the US will go to the polls to decide who will lead them for the next four years, the incumbent President and Democratic pick Barack Obama, or his Republican opponent Mitt Romney. Then, on Thursday, the National Congress of the Communist Party of China will pick the new party General Secretary, who will be the de facto successor to the outgoing President Hu Jintao.
While there is great suspense on whether the 44th American president will continue in office or be replaced by a 45th, the Chinese leadership contest is all but settled, with the current Vice-President Xi Jinping set to take over the presidency from Hu Jintao; likewise, vice-premier (deputy PM) Li Lanqing will replace the outgoing premiere (prime minister) Wen Jiabao.
Though there are differences between Romney and Obama on a range of issues, the American election will by and large be settled on the issue of American economy. The choice before American voters is clear: Romney is running on the mandate of reviving the slugging American economy by downsizing the government and through targeted tax cuts. Obama, meanwhile, will look to cash in on his relentless effort to jumpstart the American economy in the last four years through well-timed stimulus and a long-term recovery plan. On foreign policy, there are significant differences between the two on Iran and China, but on other countries the two hew close. Similarly, the new Chinese leadership, much like Hu’s administration, will look to boost the market-led economic growth and continue to work in close concert with foreign powers. There is unlikely to be a huge shift in Chinese foreign policy, even in its near neighborhood.
But will a possible leadership change in the US affect its Nepal policy? Unlikely again. There is no reason for Romney to adopt a different South Asia policy to the one being pushed by Obama. The US will continue to improve its relation with India, which it sees as an important counterbalancing force against the growing Chinese influence in the region. Towards this end, the Americans will continue to coordinate their Nepal policy with New Delhi. The foreign policy initiatives of the new Chinese leadership are also unlikely to be much different from its predecessor’s.
The Chinese concern of growing Tibetan activity in Nepal and the exploitation of the porous Indo-Nepal border to resuscitate the Tibetan independence movement will remain at the heart of China’s Nepal policy. China’s India policy is also unlikely to change as the two countries continue to consolidate their economic ties: Bilateral trade is expected to top US $ 100 billion by 2015. China is extremely unlikely to do anything to hamper its relation with India (or vice-versa) over Nepal. If anything, given their shared interests, the two countries might also look to coordinate their policy on Nepal. Thus barring the inherent uncertainties associated with any leadership change, Nepal will neither benefit nor lose out by either of the two transitions.
But rest assured, most of Nepalis will be glued to their TV and radio sets this Tuesday to see if the darling of world media in 2008 manages to hang on to his job