Ritu Raj Subedi
A real friend is recognised during the crisis. A true friendship is tested and cherished when a friend comes to the rescue of another, who is in trouble. This personal analogy also applies to the relations between the friendly nations bound by mutual respect, understanding, cooperation and shared values. Nepal and China fit into this category of friendship.
Both the neighbours have stuck together through thick and thin since a distant past. As they formalised their relations in 1955, their bilateral bonhomie began to expand to diverse spheres of life. However, their friendship always goes beyond the formal ties, which manifests during the crisis of unprecedented level, elevating it to a newer level. During the 2015 earthquake and ensuing blockade from the south, China had rushed to the aid of Nepal with relief materials and the financial support to the reconstruction of damaged structures. This had added new dimensions to their bond featuring everlasting friendship.
Nepal-China relation is passing through another phase of cooperation in an era ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. In early February this year, when the virus had already struck the Chinese people in the central city of Wuhan in Hubei province of China, Nepal’s government and people supported the Chinese government and people in the fight against the deadly virus, an invisible enemy that can be defeated only through collective efforts and global collaboration.
Nepalis from different walks of life have come out to show their emotional support and solidarity with the northern neighbour that was being stigmatised by some western nations over the outbreak of the contagion in their land. Nepalis sent letters of sympathy and consolation to them. An array of commemorative functions, including candlelight vigil and musical shows were held in Kathmandu and elsewhere, delivering the message that Nepalis are with the Chinese people in this hour of grief and national tragedy.
In one programme entitled ‘We are with you,’ Nepali students crooned a touching song in both Nepali and Chinese languages that moved all the audience to the hilt. It touched Chinese ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi so much that she stopped delivering her speech for a moment and went to the middle of the podium where she stood with Namaste (hands raised in a praying position) for minutes. The following song they sang reflects age-old bond between the two nations:
You shouldered us when we were in distress
We are with you as you feel hurt
We are living across the same mountain
That is the world’s roof and pride
Sharing woes & joys has been our centuries-old tradition.
(Translated from Nepali)
This lyric testifies that Nepal-China ties go beyond the narrow geopolitics and give-and-take economic imperatives. Neither the ego of geographical bigness nor inferiority of smallness comes in the way of fostering this friendship. This is a reason why the Chinese felt happy when they received 100,000 face masks from Nepal when these items were in short supply in Wuhan. They were the token of love and empathy that is not defined in the monetary terms. Moreover, China has received much-needed emotional backing from Nepalis at a time when many Chinese have become the victims of xenophobia in the US and European nations over the virus’s flare. Chinese people face no such hostility in Nepal.
The COVID-19 has morphed into the second phase of pandemic in Nepal, with almost 50 Nepalis infected with it. It is a matter of happiness that no one has succumbed to virus and around a dozen of virus-infected people have recovered from it. The country has adopted various measures including the imposition of nationwide lockdown, quarantining and testing of the suspects, and treatment of the infected persons. As a close neighbour and trusted friend, China has donated the essential medical goods to Nepal to ease its difficulty in handling coronavirus cases. Both the nations have taken collective efforts to rein in the virus as soon as it started to surface here. The two sides formed a joint working group, and shared information and experiences in such areas as epidemic prevention and control, clinical treatment, and customs quarantine, by providing documents and conducting video calls.
The corona crisis is upending the existing international status quo and corporate-led economic globalisation. It is pushing the world’s economy into the Great Depression a la 1929. Economists have predicted that China’s economic recovery will be faster than that of US that is turning into the new epicentre of virus with more than 50,000 deaths. On the other hand, China has largely been successful to stem the pandemic and started to resume its stalled economy and business.
Moreover, the world’s second largest economy has stepped up to the plate to assert its global leadership with its new-found health diplomacy in the wake of COVID-19 breakout.
With the prolonged lockdown and disruption of economic transactions with both the neighbours, Nepal has lost huge amount of revenues in form of remittances and import customs while trade, tourism and foreign investment has sharply nosedived. The Visit Nepal 2020 became the first casualty of virus. Given that the Western nations and our immediate neighbour, India, have been bogged down by the pandemic, it is natural for Nepal to look to the northern neighbour to revive its economy flattened by the virus.
Against this backdrop, Nepal government must not delay in devising a concrete post-COVID-19 strategy to muster support from China to boost trade, investment and tourism. Nepal’s political and bureaucratic leadership should espouse the correct development vision to benefit China’s policy of helping its neighbours. Once the virus is defeated, the bilateral mechanisms need to be activated to specify projects to be implemented under the framework of Belt and Road (BRI). It is necessary to enforce the Nepal-China strategic partnership for the win-win outcomes.
It has been widely believed that the pandemic is unlikely to halt the pace of Nepal-China cooperation. Instead, their experience of joint fighting against pandemic will further enhance their mutual understanding and inject new impetus to the multidimensional bilateral relationship.
(Deputy Executive Editor of The Rising Nepal, Subedi writes regularly on politics, foreign affairs and other contemporary issues)
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