SOUTH ASIA: CHINA - NEPAL - INDIA
Nepal is undergoing an unprecedented transition. Things are in a flux. Dreams of the people are sky-high and have wings; albeit the leadership has been so far paid a lip service and are ambivalent in their deeds. The historic election to the Constituent Assembly some how took place in April, 2008 after being deferred twice since April 2006 Jan Andolan and the ‘government formation’ has been made possible just now at the cost of four crucial months from the stipulated two years term within which the CA is suppose to draft a Constitution. This evokes to mind the days of 90s during which people were perplexed by the metamorphosing attitude of the political parties that brought about political instability in the Himalayan Country. The people today in a similar way are observing with caution and awe how their leaders (destiny makers) are deciding upon their future. Like Rousseau’s citizens they are not free today and are in a state of servitude after the election is over. They have no options left other than following their leaders’ way and are passive onlookers.
The legacy of the King and Kingdom adorns the pages of history today after Nepal became a republic; the last ‘Hindu State’ has been converted into a secular one, Nepal is a federal state in the making and an inclusive democracy is taking shape in it through unceasing political squabbles among political parties who too lack consensus over national issues including the foreign policy of Nepal. In these moments of uncertainty and confusion Nepal’s policy vis-à-vis China and India has witnessed a revolutionary change. This change in its attitude has aroused alarm in India and has shaken the security equation in South Asia.
Today a marriage of convenience has taken place in the Sino-Nepalese relationship. It is said that ‘politics makes strange bed fellows’ and it is true in case of the present Sino-Nepal relationship. Despite its change in its ‘Peripheral Policy’ China has been found to be pro-active in its dealing towards Nepal and vice versa. From China’s side say it the instances of sending congratulatory messages to the newly elected heads of Government and State; sending invitations to them to visit China during the 29th Olympics held in Beijing; holding of an hour long meeting between the PRC President and the just elected Nepalese Prime Minister and its agreeing to provide assistance amounting $300,000 to Nepal for the flood victims- are evidences of China’s special attention given to Nepal. Nepal on the other hand has responded to Chinese gesturers in a similar manner. Even eight days after his election to the office of the Prime Minister in the ‘Youngest Republic’ Mr.Puspa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) preferred China as his maiden international destination; his expression of his predilection for visiting Mao’s village and lo! It is reported that both the heads( State and Government) have imported their official furniture from China paying a heavy amount that includes a very expensive cot for the Prime Minister and all the furniture, including sofa sets, for republic Nepal's first president Ram Baran Yadav – all are in a similar way Nepal’s reciprocation to the Chinese change in attitude towards Nepal.
Despite India’s premonition of the Prime Minister’s maiden visit to China was conveyed but it was undertaken on the plea that it was a non-political visit as the Prime Minister was going to attend the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics to be held in the ‘Bird’s Nest’ in Beijing on 24th August. It was against a long done tradition according to which a newly appointed Nepalese Prime Minister should have visited India first. Despite all pretexts the tour was found to have political undertones as an hour long meeting was held between Mr. Hu Jintao -the President of PRC and Mr. Prachanda- the Prime Minister elect of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. It took place on a day when the President was awfully busy in Olympic schedules. This shows the importance China attaches to Nepal today in return of Nepal’s fidelity to China. The President categorically acknowledged this in saying that Nepalese Prime Minister’s visit to attend the Olympics closing ceremony within a week after being sworn in, demonstrated the attention Nepal attaches to relations with China. In response to Hu Jintao’s remarks Prachanda while describing China as reliable friend expressed that his government was willing to cement cooperation with China and to elevate bi-lateral ties with China to a new high. He did convey the expectation of Nepal from China in bringing peace and economic development in the mountainous Himalayan republic.
There was nothing wrong in Nepal’s seeking Chinese assistance but what displeases India in addition to the Chinese tour of Mr. Prachanda was regarding China’s pledge to extend a state assistance of $300,000 for the victims of the devastating flood in south Nepal that left over 75,000 people homeless. In the Indian circle this generous assistance of China is been regarded as an ‘Indian specific move’ since there has been growing allegations in Nepal about India's negligence being responsible for the breach of a barrage in south Nepal that rendered over 75,000 people homeless. This has caused Indian ire. It has projected the image of China as a ‘friend in need’ in relation to Nepal. It is reminiscent of a similar situation in late 70s when China accorded recognition to Nepal’s ‘Zone of Peace’ proposal when India was against it. It then brought China closer to Nepal. Today a similar situation has been exploited by China to build its own image before Nepal. Indo-Nepal ‘Treaty of Peace and Friendship’ of 1950 is now under scrutiny. The new government led by the Maoist leader is to decide whether to scrap or review all unequal treaties with India as the CPN (Maoists) party had promised to the electorate during April 2008. Today there has been growing allegations in Nepal about India's negligence being responsible for the breach of a barrage in south Nepal that rendered over 75,000 people homeless. There are also accusations of India encroaching on Nepali territory and interfering in Nepal's internal matters, including the recent elections. Under these circumstances ascendancy in Sino-Nepal relationship has caused concern to India.
In the last couple of years Nepal has been found to be a great supporter of China. Two instances are significant in this direction. These are, first, Nepal’s support to China in securing the ‘Observer Status’ in SAARC despite India’s unwillingness to it and second, Nepal’s action in cracking down anti-China demonstrations in Nepal. In the 13th SAARC summit held in Dhaka China succeeded in getting an entry in to through Nepal’s lobby. Even during the 14th SAARC summit held in New Delhi during 3-4 April 2007 Nepal announced its support for the membership of China in the SAARC. It was too a move against the wishes of India. Further the Himalayan State has shown its loyalty to China in cracking down on Tibetan protest movements with an iron hand in its territory. Since a large section of ethnic Tibetans are living in Nepal and three districts of Nepal are bordering Tibet Nepal’s move has been regarded by China as the Himalayan State’s support to ‘One China’ policy of Beijing. Not only had this Nepal in late 80s procured $200 million worth of arms from China.
In return China has never disappointed Nepal with an exception in 1989 when Nepal could not get China’s assistance when it was facing economic difficulties following India’s trade blockade in 1988.China was then having internal problems. However, today China has emerged as an economic and military power. China has included Nepal in its Western Development Campaign Plan. It has been consistent in supplying economic aid to Nepal supporting construction of highways and several infrastructural building projects. China’s support to King Gyanendra during 2005- 2006 was unmatched. Though it was a strategic failure but China’s support to Nepalese authority was a proven fact. However China during that time had been reiterated its earlier stand it took in 1961 by serving a warning to the outside powers not to interfere in Nepal. That was indicated against India’s possible ambitious designs. Today, China is eyeing to Nepal’s trade and economy as the former has proposed to extend its railway link from Lhasa (in Tibet) to a town i.e. Khasa in Tibet before Nepal's border in five years. This has been done in order to boost trade and tourism with the latter. There is also a proposal to further extend the railway line from Khasa to Kathmandu. With its extension even to the border Nepal’s trade may get a fillip through its northern border. It may be more convenient then to divert it to China instead of continuing with India. It may result in more imports from and trade with China. While Nepal will provide a good market for China’s goods at the same time China would like to use Nepal for its strategic use. China is developing its military base and logistics in Tibet. If this Himalayan barrier is breached it may provide an easy access to China to reach India. Not only this, China was reported to had mooted a single Communist party with the polarisation of the two leading Communist Parties viz., CPN (UML) and CPN (Maoists) in Nepal in a bid to get their support in consolidating its position in Tibet.
These developments have made India apprehensive about China’s ambitious designs in South Asia. What India fears is that with Pakistan and Nepal being its supporters and ‘all weather friends’ may provide strategic advantages to China vis-à-vis India. To add salt to injury China’s claim over some parts of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim has been an irritant to India and if Nepal is slipped in to the grip of China it will definitely heighten India’s security concerns. Therefore China’s forays into Nepal have been looked with suspicion by India.
Some analysts have described it as the revival of playing ‘China Card’ policy by Nepal against India. However Nepal must think the reasons why China is extending its support to Nepal (?). First, it is the Tibet issue. Integration of Tibet (TAR) into China still remains a headache for China. Nepal being the border of Tibet could play a big role in dissuading Tibetan pro-independence struggle from the side of Nepal. Since three districts of Nepal are adjacent to Tibet where some ethnic Tibetans are living those districts may encourage pro-Tibetan movements involving the external powers in it. Therefore China wishes to please Nepal in eliciting its support in curbing anti-China movements from Nepal’s territory. Second, China fears the spread of insurgency activities in Nepal that may spread to the said bordering districts and thereby makes an outlet to spread to China. Therefore neither China wishes to see Nepal as a failed state neither to be kept under the grip of an insurgent group nor to see an unstable Nepal. Its fear for the spread of insurgency was proved during its support to King Gyanendra. Since the ‘anti-government forces/guerillas’ as China did term the Maoists earlier are in Power today China has tried to appease Mr. Prachanda through the present deal.
To some analysts this has been viewed as the revival of the old techniques of playing the ‘China Card’ by Nepal. However Nepal must not forget that its ‘China Card’ strategy may not hold good for a longer time. A lot improvement has taken place in Sino-Indian relationship. India like China’s entry into SAARC has got an ‘Observer Status’ in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation with the Chinese support. China is also well aware of the Indo-US strategic alliance and China in order to promote its economy would not wish to displease India and the US. Nepal must keep it in mind the situation of 1988-89 when China could not come to its rescue. Despite an opening on its northern side Nepal’s economy will not cease to depend on India. Further Nepal will be open to Chinese incursion into its territory at any moment. Further any strain in Indo-Nepal ties will definitely affect SAARC and BIMSTEC. The need of the hour for Nepal is to have a balanced relationship with both the immediate neighbours. Let a good sense may prevail in Nepal, which should recollect the help and succour that it had received from India during its hard days. India and Nepal share deep-rooted ties. Even today most of its political leaders are the products of Indian Universities like the Jawaharlal Nehru University and Benares Hindu University etc. Nepal earns in a major portion of its remittances from India. India has been the source of livelihood for a large section of Nepalese. Nepal should remember its woes during the Indian trade blockade of 1988.Since Nepal trade and economic activities depend mostly on India Nepal should think twice before it takes an anti-India stand. It is a country in transition. It has a lot many problems. It is not the proper time to develop strained relations with India at the cost of its own core interest. It must reconsider its demand to review or scrap the ‘Treaty of peace and Friendship’ of 1950 with India. From economy to democracy India will be closer and expedient to Nepal. India has been instrumental in bringing development in Nepal through its aid supporting several infrastructural developments. It is reported recently that Nepal is stuck in a major gas crisis with the state-owned Nepal Oil Corporation, which is unable to pay its dues to the sole Indian fuel exporter, the Indian Oil Corporation. This shows India’s role in Nepal. In this critical juncture Prudence lies in balancing both the Asian giants. This has been rightly reflected in a statement of Mr. Prachanda on 23rd August 2008 who was reported to have said that Nepal’s dealing with both China and India would be based on ‘Panchsheel ties/ principles’. This shows political maturity and acumen on the part of Mr. Prachanda in dealing with such an intricate issue. In the recent visit of Prachanda (the official one) to India he was reported to have said that Nepal’s relationship with India could not be compared with that of China. This is how Nepal is trying to strike a balance between the two goliaths, which is very essential for leading its transition to its desired end.
Anil Kumar Mohapatra is a teacher of fifteen years standing. At present
he heads the Department of Political Science at Government Women’s Jr
College, Jeypore in the district of Koraput (Orissa) in India. He is a Ph.D.
in International Politics.. He has presented papers in several international
and national conferences. He has several research papers published in journals
of national and international repute. He evinces interest in the areas like:
South Asian politics especially Nepal and Bhutan, Democracy, Civil Society,
Indian politics, Coalition politics, Decentralized Planning, Women studies
etc. Besides his academic interests he is more known as a poet. He
writes poems in both Oriya and English and is also a columnist. He is the
ex-editor of the Utkal University yearly journal. He has authored two books
and has compiled a letter collection. He can be contacted at: email@example.com
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