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China's crackdown extends to Nepal

As defense analysts focus on escalating tensions in the South China Sea, recent events in Nepal confirm that China's geopolitical influence is growing in South Asia as well. From a report yesterday by the AP:

Nepalese authorities prevented exiled Tibetans from celebrating their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama's birthday on Wednesday over concerns that gatherings would turn anti-Chinese.…

Nepal says it cannot allow protests on its soil against any friendly nations, including China.

Police guarded the Chinese Embassy and its visa office in Katmandu against any protests, and areas populated by Tibetans were put under heavy security.

Authorities earlier said they would allow celebrations inside monasteries provided there are no banners or slogans against China.

Nepal has long been a pawn in the simmering border dispute between India and China that dates back to the Sino-Indian War of 1962, a month-long conflict which established the borders as they stand today. Since the war, China has claimed the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as a rightful part of South Tibet. India considers Aksai Chin, on China's western frontier, to be a part of Kashmir. The last decade has seen tensions slowly mounting on the border between the two nations, tensions that have spilled over into the country's relations with the border countries of Nepal and Bhutan. Analysis from the Jamestown Foundation explains how China has maneuvered to gain the upper hand in Nepal (links added):

The ongoing political paralysis in Nepal -- caused by the small Himalayan nation's inability to draft a Constitution -- coupled with the rise of Maoists as a major political force in Nepal's mainstream politics have created the ideal conditions for Beijing to increase its leverage and influence over Nepal. New Delhi is wary of the pace with which Beijing has been able to apply pressure on the Nepalese leadership, make inroads into the political, economic and strategic dynamics of Nepal's development and control the activities of nearly 20,000 Tibetan refugees living in exile in Nepal.… New Delhi is desperately trying to limit Chinese influence to prevent Nepal from becoming China's backyard.

Closer ties between China and Pakistan, especially over Pakistan's nuclear program, have Indian observers similarly worried. In short: Watch this space.

PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images

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What’s up with those Jiang Zemin death rumors?

Internet death rumors have (falsely) claimed the lives of everyone from teen hearthrob Justin Bieber to poor Jeff Goldblum (who was reported to have fallen off a cliff in New Zealand).

Given that less-than-stellar track record, the press is taking a very cautious approach to the latest rumors that former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin has died.

The Internet rumors spread after the 84-year-old Jiang Zemin-- who held power for 12 years before handing control to President Hu Jintao in 2002 -- didn't appear last Friday at a celebration marking the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party's founding. According to the Daily Telegraph, TV stations and newspapers in Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea all reported his death, but most outlets are being more careful. 

Today, China's Xinhua News Agency quoted officials calling the reports "pure rumor." Interestingly, they didn't say he hadn't died, said David Lampton, director of the China Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University.

Lampton, who made clear he didn't know whether Jiang Zemin was alive or dead -- and didn't want to speculate -- called China's response a "non-denial denial."

"It could be he is close to death and so they don't want to say anything," Lampton said.

Minxin Pei, director of the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies at Claremont McKenna College, agreed. "There must be something to the rumors, he must be ill, but I don't think he's dead yet," he told Foreign Policy. "The Chinese government has never made up lies of that magnitude -- saying someone is alive when they are actually dead."

So if it's true he passed away, why wouldn't they come out and say it?

Lampton said there are a number of possible reasons.

"The regime may be trying to orchestrate how to play his role to the populace," he said. "Because he was in power so long, there are lots of policy issues they need to work through."

"The media systems are less controllable than in the past," said Lampton. "They may want to get their propaganda ducks in a row before making an announcement."

Whatever the case, Chinese Internet censors have gone into overdrive, the Telegraph reports.

"Searches for ‘Jiang Zemin' in Chinese or simply ‘Jiang' ... drew warnings on Sina Corp.'s popular Twitter-like service that said the search was illegal," according to the paper.

Lampton pointed out that the party is also in the midst of planning for Hu Jintao's succession (presumably to Vice President Xi Jinping) and there could be a debate within the party about how to burnish Jiang Zemin's legacy.

"Each generational leader is always fearful of being overshadowed by his predecessor. They don't want to be diminished while you're praising their predecessor." 

AFP/ Getty Images