Professor Upendra Gautam, PhD
Political Analyst, Nepal
Sino-Nepali diplomatic ties duly reestablished 53 years ago on 1 August, 1955 (article penned by the author in 2009) are poised to new challenges and opportunities. The time these ties were reestablished offered no less challenges either. Challenges basically pertained to conducting of international affairs independently and in the sovereign manner. But the prevailing Cold War sought to expand aggressive design and sphere of influence in the name of transferring ideology and establishing security bloc. Relatively weak and small nations who were asserting independence to a fuller extent were more vulnerable to the Cold War machinations. The fact that China’s rise as a “People’s Republic” and its immediate weak and small neighbors including Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Sikkim with different social system provided a major incentive to the Cold War powers and their allies to reach out China’s neighbors in whatever expedient ways, it was not easy for Nepal to move ahead in a planned way in reestablishing ties with China. Reflecting over those times, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, who research fully asserted that China had blood ties with Nepal , in his 30 September, 1950 report said: “China shall never tolerate any foreign invasion nor shall watch it taking place in any neighboring country with folded arms.” #
Withstanding the challenges emanating from foreign aggressive design and interference, China and Nepal were able to base the bilateral ties on the five principles of panchsheel including the principle of peaceful co-existence and non-interference in each other’s internal matter. Any matter which was prejudicial to China’s territorial integrity such as status of Tibet or for that matter its “independence” were never raised during the reestablishment of bilateral ties as Nepal throughout in history-recent or past-never recognized Tibet as an independent country. All treaties and agreements pertaining to Nepal’s ties with Tibet were signed between the competent authorities of China and Nepal. Ample evidences to this historical fact are Sino-Nepali Treaty of 1 792, Sino Nepali Treaty of Thapathali of 1856 and the 1956 Agreement between China and Nepal on the Maintenance of Friendship and Trade and Transport between Tibet Autonomous Region of China and Nepal. The 1956 Agreement replaced the 1856 Treaty.
Nepal-China relations remained largely stable in 1955-2000 though this was the period when in 1975 Sikkim, the common neighbor of both China and Nepal, got its independence externally ceased. On 9 October, 2003, giving continuation to a position vis-à-vis Sikkim, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue was quoted by Press Trust of India as saying in Beijing, “On the question of Sikkim, this is an issue left over from history. On this issue, we must respect historical facts and at the same time take into account the present circumstances.” State leaders who contributed in developing stable Sino-.Nepali ties were Nepali kings Mahendra (1955- 1972) and Birendra (1972-2001), and prime ministers Tank Prasad Acharya (1956-1957) and B.P. Koirala (1959-1960). G.P. Koirala, who occupied the seat of premiership for the most part of the Nepali multi-party politics from 1990 to 2008, happened to be more intricately circumscribed by political expediency. Nevertheless the fact remains that in the said period and the backdrop of China’s West China Development Strategy (WCDS), it was he who was courageous enough to sign six cooperation agreements including the second road link between the two countries in 2001 with visiting Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji. From the Chinese side, Chairman Mao, Premier Zhou Enlai, Vice-premier Deng Xiaoping, Vice- premier Huang Hua and President Jiang Zeming not only nurtured China’s Nepal ties with a personal touch but often evaluated it highly as a model of state-to-state relations.
The bilateral ties suffered a deep shock in June, 2001 when the entire family of King Birendra was annihilated in a Royal Palace massacre in Kathmandu. The condemnable massacre at the hindsight brought to the fore a new Cold War already in making in the region. It is a “new” Cold War in the sense that it derives abilities from 1) advances in communication technology, ii) the Republic of India’s (RoI) dependent foreign policy that seeks hegemony in the region, and iii) economic globalization, which is not equitable. It is a “Cold War” because covert, tacit and subversive games are still its basic operational character. The old Cold War camp which could not deter the successful restoration of bilateral ties between Nepal and China in 1950s seems to have been at work to regroup itself in the new form with the comparative differences in abilities listed above. This camp deliberately plays down independence, national interest and security of the non-camp weak and small nations in the name of the new Cold War consideration. This camp seemed to have been shaken by unconfirmed reports that King Birendra was negotiating hand in gloves with the anti-government force or the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M). The CPN-M had since 1996 been waging a “people’s war” for “equitable” changes and reforms in Nepal’s domestic and international policies.
Whereas the CPN-M got started primarily as a home-grown outfit, advocacy segments in the West and ruling elites in the RoI (Republic of India) projected it as a China baited and supported group. And to do so was in their new Cold War interest. China from the beginning denied any links and support to the CPN-M. The West and the RoI conveniently ignored the fact of growing influence and capability of the native Maoists in the RoI itself. Kolkata, the state capital of the RoI’s West Bengal had as early as 1970’s been the bastion of the first Maoist movement- popularly called the Naxalite movement- in the South Asian region. And after a long continuity in 2008, it was in Manipur where the Left Co-ordination Committee on 23 June ( 2009) last expressed jubilation at Nepal’s newly elected Constituent Assembly (CA) with the CPN-M having the largest number of seats.
Mistaken scholarship in the West buttressed coloration of the CPN-M in the new Cold War interest. For example, Jaya Acharya, a Nepali scholar and Nepal’s former permanent representative to the UN, during his research work (June, 2007) at the United States Institute of Peace, Washington, DC was used to face a situation where American scholarship would easily commit the mistake.
The CPN-M, mistaken identity in certain circles aside, continued ascending state political power through a multi-party republican program agreed in New Delhi in November, 2005. This political agreement is noteworthy but no less noteworthy is the fact that along with the CPN-M ascendancy, forces of aggression and interference have also started making their marks in Nepali politics in an accelerated speed.
Consequent to the agreement, the CPN-M continuously scored powerful gains. The scores included: signing of a peace deal with the Government of Nepal (GoN) (November, 2006), promulgating new interim constitution (January, 2007) for paving the way for their (CPN-M) participation in the interim legislature (parliament), joining the government (June, 2007), mobilizing the multi-parties to reach an agreement to abolish the monarchy after the CA elections (December, 2007), conducting the CA election (April, 2008) to draft a new constitution, and obtaining “graceful exit” of King Gyanendra (June, 2008) from his ancestral seat of power (the Narayanhiti Royal Palace) after the CA passed a resolution declaring Nepal a “federal democratic republic” (May, 2008). A section of political observers consider dethroned Gyanendra’s deliberate choice to stay home and serve the nation amid all sorts of disinformation campaign against him particularly in the RoI media has added loyal value to his grace.
The moment CPN-M representatives entered parliament under the terms of the interim constitution, violent protests erupted in the south-east Nepal Tarai- plain area in the South along the border with the RoI- demanding autonomy for the region (January, 2007). Three bombs hit Kathmandu in the first attack in the capital (September, 2007) since the end of the CPN-M insurgency and their participation in the government. Continued violent strikes in Tarai seriously affected movement of goods and people between the parts of the country and badly destabilized the governance system. The GoN made a deal with the “Madhesi groups” in Nepal Tarai on “Madhes as an autonomous province” to end the protests (February, 2008). Almost happening in tandem, the criminal use of Nepal Tarai on daily basis by numerous terror gangs with their allegiance to the criminal groups in the adjoining RoI territories for land encroachment, arson, loot, kidnapping, murder and rape of people in the Nepali side; and cold blooded massacre of a large number of CPN-M cadres in Gaur (March, 2007) indicated at the scheme of things. In an interview published in Himalini, Hindi Magazine, January-February 2007 and reproduced in the Nepali Weekly Janadharana, (18 January, 2007), Jai Krishna Goit, leader of a splinter group from CPN-M, said, “Entire territory south of the Mahabharat mountain range is Tarai and it belongs to us. . ..You have witnessed (CPN-M) movement that started 10 years before with traditional weapons...in our case we have begun it with ultra modern weapons...” News in a New Delhi daily Hindustan Times of 1 8 December, 2007 amplified Goit’s message saying “people of Tarai want to secede from Nepal.
Wrong reading of history and misrepresentation of Nepal’s Tarai for divisive political interest however, seem to have unwittingly inspired the groups of indigenous people in Nepal and its southern neighborhood to assert their freedom from exploitation, cultural roots and political identity. Groups of various indigenous people in Nepal Tarai who have always been a foundation of Nepali nation and economy suffered long in the hands of powerful landed aristocracy of predominantly external origin. Bottom-up correction of the source and linkages of this landed aristocracy, for all good reasons, is what these people vitally need. Conscious people in the Nepal Tarai understand well that imposition of a divisible political superstructure in the name of state restructuring primarily serves foreign motive.
The story does not end here. A separatist group in the name of the “Tibetan refugees” in Nepal in close collaboration with the “Tibetan government-in-exile” in the RoI started violating and undermining Nepal’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by daily demonstrating against Nepal’s friendly neighbor China for its (China’s) crack down on violent separatist elements in Lhasa in March, 2008. Though this group’s planned anti-China demonstration at this time clearly speaks of its immediate intention of giving a bad name ( then) to China vis-à-vis the Beijing Olympic Games, a closer look at the same time informs that these demonstrations in the longer term inherently target Nepal’s sovereignty and territorial integrity right in Kathmandu, the seat of Nepal’s central authority. Nepal’s then (2005- 2007) Seven Party Government’s policy of providing Nepali citizenship certificate to all aliens claiming residence in Nepal and no enforcement of immigration and security regulations on the international border with the RoI most severely affected Nepal’s indigenously plural demography and in consequence harmed its independent decision making capability from within in the post-CA period. It is in such a context that organizations like “Nepal Tibetan Solidarity Forum”, according to a spokesman of the Chinese embassy in Nepal, is seeking “Tibet independence” with attempts to undermine the China-Nepal friendly relations.
For Hira Bahadur Thapa, a senior official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the GoN, political demonstration against China was simply a misuse of Nepal government’s generosity to “the refugees.” (The Rising Nepal, 28 June, 2008).
History is the witness to the fact that whenever China and Nepal narrowly defined their national interest, each suffered by the machinations of the aggressive and interfering forces. So happened, for example, in 1814-16 when Nepal alone had to fight the invading Britain, and, Tibet did not receive help from Nepal when British India engineered armed expedition to Tibet in 1904. It is therefore important to note that while meeting with a delegation of Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist and Leninist) in Beijing last June (2009), Liu Yunshan, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and head of the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee, appreciated Nepali political parties’ consistent position and “Nepal’s correct stance and effective measures in handling the issues concerning China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The CPN-M Chairman Prachanda demonstrated his sensitivity towards Chinese concerns about “Tibetan refugees” anti-China activities from the Nepali territory in an exclusive interview to China Daily (13 June, 2008). He informed that when the CPN-M leads the government in Nepal, it will change the situation. He expressed the need of Nepal’s new government to discuss with India the “open border”, which enables Tibetan demonstrators to come to Kathmandu from Dharmashala, the base of “Tibetan Government-in-Exile” in the RoI.
It should be recalled that when Nepal was being dragged into a war with the CPN-M in the new Cold War climate in the region, China during the first term of presidency of Hu Jintao successfully extended its national railway to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital and roof-of-the-world in July, 2006. It plans to further extend this railway link to a Tibetan township of Khasa (Zhangmu) on China- Nepal border in the Eleventh Plan period (2006-2010). The construction of 17 km long second road linking the two countries has also finally started this year-2009. These infrastructure developments help implement China’s combined national and regional policy initiative (national policy of opening up of the Eleventh Plan and the WCDS). They provide by their logical international linkage a historic opportunity for joint infrastructure development planning and technology transfer between the two countries.
Moreover, the 53rd anniversary year of China-Nepal diplomatic ties was crowned with a new glory of the Olympic flame that was taken to the world summit-the top of the Mt. Everest-the unassailable symbol of Nepal-China friendship. For the success of this historic technological feat both the countries collaborated with each other by jointly coordinating security measures in the high Himalayas against any anti-China activity. #
Given such a secured environment, the combined Han-Tibetan Mountaineering Team led by Nyima Cering could make it as the team lit the torch on top of the world on 8 May, 2008.
Now climbing down the Mt. Everest and, proactively addressing foreign aggression and interference against national integrity and harmonious development, China and Nepal need to promote a comprehensive framework of cultural diplomacy.
Contents of this diplomacy should be entrepreneurially strategic, and guiding principles should be mutual trust and co-existence characterized by courage and devoid of any appeasement. Chinese people have a saying, “Ivory cannot grow on a Jackal s mouth.
# “The great statesman of China Premier Zhou Enlai visited Nepal twice. He referred to Nepal- China relationship as being based on blood ties. The relationship between Nepal and China was defined as of great importance by the leaders of both countries. I do not know if history has any importance in the current trend of bilateral relationship which is entirely based on give and take; the two thousand years old relationship has much value to determine the future course of our bilateral relationship,” Madan Regmi, “Nepal and China in the 21 st Century”.
# On his return after his historic Olympic visit to China, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda said, ‘They (China) especially appreciated the fact that plans to take the Olympic torch up Mt. Everest would not have been successful without Nepal’s positive role” as quoted in “First political visit will be to India: PM Dahal “The Kathmandu Post, 28 August, 2008.
And Nepal played this positive role when Girija Prasad Koirala was Nepal s prime minister.
Also refer to “Hu meets Nepalese PM on ties, ) Olympics “ . In the meeting President Hu “welcomed the newly-elected prime minister to the Beijing Olympics’ closing ceremony and expressed thanks for the support of the Nepalese government and people for the Beijing Games.”.
He further said, “Mr. Prime Minister has come to the Beijing Olympics’ closing ceremony within a week after being sworn in. This fully demonstrates the great attention Nepal attaches to relations with China and its profound friendship with the Chinese people. We highly appreciate that.”
An article penned by the author and published in the “Journal of International Affairs”, April-September, 2009 issue. The article is still relevant and thus presented in the larger interest of the readers both within and without: Thanks Prof. Gautam: Ed.