Saturday, 8 August, 2020

Mainstay Of Nepal-China Ties

Binod P. Bista

Though the formal diplomatic relations between Nepal and China were established in 1955, immediately after Nepal's removal of Rana oligarchy, people to people relations date back centuries ago. Siddhartha Gautama-- the Buddha-- provided an opportunity after his attainment of enlightenment during the seventh century itself, to take his message to Nepal's neighbouring areas and States for emancipation of miseries and sufferings leading to harmony and peace between the peoples as well as nations. During the reign of Amshuverma in Nepal, princess Bhrikuti—the “Swet Tara” as she is fondly called, married Tsrong Chong Gompo, King of Tibet, in the seventh century that also supported spread of Buddhism in Tibet as well.

Together with the development and exchanges of arts and culture between Khasa (Tibet) and Kathmandu (Nepal) in the seventh century, Nepal—especially Kathmandu Valley, became the principal venue for trade between India and Tibet, similar to ‘transit point concept’ of modern Nepali leaders. Although the high passes (24 in number and averaging 17000 ft.) served the purpose, albeit with hardship but Kuti and Kerong—lowest points (at around 6000 ft.) were the preferred points. As per the treaty signed between Tibet and Nepal in the 17th century, Kathmandu was granted joint authority with Tibet of the border towns (Kuti and Kerong) and it was further agreed that Nepal (Kathmandu) would mint coins for Tibet. Thus, the present day negotiations between Nepal and the People’s Republic of China for direct road and rail access from Kerong (Tibet Autonomous Region) is like reviving the old trade route in a better manner through sophisticated technology that China has acquired in the past few decades.

China’s current President Xi Jinping has risen to a higher stature, both in China and internationally, in a very short span of six years. Xi Jinping thought’, has found a prominent place in China’s constitution, his initiatives—particularly the ‘Belt and Road’ has created ripples all over the world. This initiative has come at a time when the global players, including some European Union (EU) members, as well as Russian Federation were trying to establish a multipolar world through the sheer strength of their combined economies, technological prowess, and will to assume larger responsibility. China, a permanent member of Security Council, has been assuming its international peace and security responsibility with more vigor due to its stupendous rise as the second largest economic power of the world. Further, it has also been involved in checking, where possible, the flash spot of Asia—North Korea; helping the front line states and some others of Africa through investment in infrastructure and manufacturing to douse local conflicts getting into full scale war.

For most developing countries, China has become a modern messiah through which the people have got easy access to and affordability for basic necessities of daily life—clothing, electronics, machinery and equipment. This situation has not only kept the people relatively satisfied but also helped the governments to focus on social service sector for long term wellbeing of the people. It has helped to contain unemployment leading to local conflicts to some degree.

Nepal has continuously enjoyed: the warmth of friendship, respect for a sovereign nation, support from a strong brother at all times of need for maintaining Nepal’s independent and sovereign status, and most of all financial support—direct as well as indirect. Even when China had not attained its present economic strength and technological marvel she had been supporting Nepal’s efforts in building infrastructure, establishing manufacturing industries, and creating sports facilities, among others. Nepali people are indebted to the Chinese people for their largesse and goodwill. It is gratifying to witness that this excellent example of bilateral cooperation remained steadfast despite frequent changes in Nepali politics—system as well as governance, the most significant being the transformation of Nepal from a kingdom to a republic. China’s firm assurance from its successive leaders, directly or through the visiting high level officials as well as its chief envoy to Nepal, that China values Nepal’s independence and sovereignty as the linchpin of its bilateral relations with Nepal and sees that no harm comes to Nepal’s present stature is a testimony of a true and all weather friend.
Although several Nepali leaders and intellectuals are engaged in petty discussions of what the Chinese President might bring with him in terms of projects and programs linked with BRI or outside of it, there may be a need to seriously reorient the priorities based on importance and value of bilateral relations. In this regard, some thoughts may be given to:

Nepal’s strongest desire to live alongside China as an independent and sovereign nation for which Nepal’s ancestors have spared nothing by way of sacrifices;

Abiding by the five principles of peaceful cooperation in the conduct of Sino-Nepal relations should follow immediately;

Nepal is concerned as its neighbors but confident in strengthening its internal safety and security not only for its people but also keeping up with its commitment that no harm will come to its neighbours from its soil;

Nepal’s need to establish manufacturing industries for import substitution as well as for generating employment is obvious—China can offer buy back arrangements on certain industry sectors by providing machinery, technology as well as raw materials to Nepal turning Nepal into a processing zone;

Nepal’s need of infrastructure building is most urgent, be it roadways, railroads, airways, and even river ways. Sensible ways of meeting the financial requirements to achieve this lofty goal, could be another important area;

It should be kept in mind that not all agenda can be taken up at one go and Nepal should keep its patience while dealing with China.
Most importantly, on the occasion of the State visit of President Xi coming after nearly 23 years by a President of China, all the Nepalis must welcome him with arms fully stretched and bid him farewell after the visit with warm hearts and smiles. The Chinese people are aware of Nepali hospitality and good manners that are ingrained in our character. President Xi Jinping would want nothing more but consolidate the existing relations by the strength of his BRI Initiative—embedded in his thoughts directed at sharing prosperity with neighbors and friends. Nepal is fortunate to have a benevolent neighbour on its side.

(Bista served as an advisor to the Institute of Foreign Affairs-IFA).

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