Security/Political Analyst, Nepal,
Most of us have been writing about Nepal-China relations for many decades. Our ancestors wrote on it thousands of years back. It’s because we are close neighbor(s) and have many things in common. We have been respecting each other’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity from time immemorial. Thus, history has added weight to Nepal-China relations. Culture has remained the predominant factor in uniting us. Economic relation has been very substantive. Nepal was the entrepot of Trans- Himalayan trade for thousands of years. Our two nations have been very much sensitive to each other’s national security. Nepal has remained pivotal to China’s national security. Except for a brief spat between the two at the end of the 17th century which created distrust between these two countries but only for the benefit of a third country- the then British imperialism which was a threat to both China and Nepal. Failure of Nepal and China to unite against the common enemy led to the great loss of both, ceding of huge territory to the creation of a crater in our relationship that took more than a century to be bridged up. After the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1955 (though official relationship was established in 644 AD), Nepal-China relation has remained good but the problems thrust from outside remain a stumbling block to the peaceful development of our relationship.
I will not go in detail here to remind the readers of the comfortable as well as the cumbersome trajectory that Nepal-China relations had to undergo in this span of 57 years. It will be better to come straightway to the present period where both Nepal and China will have to work hard to make our bilateral relations capable of sustaining the tumultuous 21st century. The idea to make our bilateral relationship strategic and raise it to a new height has been the aspiration of both the sides. During the official visit of the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao last January, edifice for it was laid and China’s position in Nepal as a major stakeholder too was reasserted. It also provided China an opportunity to gauge the strength of Sino-Nepal relations.
Political pundits, however, foresee the bright prospect of Nepal-China relations. They might have been made enthusiastic by their astute observation that China’s peaceful rise has stimulated prosperity of many nations from Australia to the African continent, from ASEAN to the Caribbean and in other vast areas. In Nepal’s case, China’s investment has yet to make headway as hurdles are abundant. Nepalese know that China has been providing billions of dollars of soft loans to help Nepal develop hydro projects, promote tourism, build infrastructure-related projects for the wellbeing of the Nepalese people. Besides, China has shown great interest to invest in Nepal in various sectors which will be beneficial for both. In some sector, there is an indication of some progress. However, the difficulty evolving to get through the joint ventures and projects to be built by FDI neither augurs well for the promise to create a new Nepal nor is there a major shift in Nepal government’s status quo economic policy which is but a reflection of a quasi-sovereign entity. The signing of MOU between Nepal Government’s Investment Board and CWE investments, a branch of China Three Gorges Corporation, to build 750 megawatt Seti hydropower and transmission project costing nearly $2 billion Chinese soft loan, is the biggest Hydro project to be built in Nepal which is entirely for the benefit of the Nepalese people but had to traverse unusually hazardous course. Now, other projects of great importance to Nepalese economy to be built under soft loans from China are yet to be finalized. Thus, the Nepalese people in general are very cautious of Government’s intention.
Nepal is the lowest receiver of the FDI. China is the biggest lender and investor in the third world and the largest receiver of the FDI but China’s investment in Nepal compared to its investment in other parts of the world is paltry. Nepalese people often are vexed to find that even small European countries have much economic and political say in Nepal. Norway, a small European country also known as a troublemaker in South Asia, has its strong foothold in Nepal’s hydro and political sector to the extent that it is widely believed to be one of the major designers to disintegrate Nepal.
Various studies show that Nepal has the potentiality to generate over hundred thousand megawatts of hydropower and possesses more than three percent of drinking water of the world. Nepal’s eco friendly energy can meet the requirements of power hungry South Asian nations and China also can buy Nepalese electricity. In herbal plant kingdom Nepal is only next to China. Nepal is also rich in mineral and precious stones. Besides, it has other rich resources including petroleum. For tourism, Nepal is one of the best places in the world and Chinese are considered as one among the high spending tourists. To quote “In the first half of this year, 38 million Chinese took international trip, 18% more than in the same period last year. In 2011, they spent $73 billion while travelling abroad, third only to Germans and Americans”. (The Economist, September 1st 2012, page 30) But how many of these Chinese tourists come to Nepal? Perhaps, it is very little. The onus lies with us. We have been made to make our nation so dysfunctional and wretched that our vast resources, natural beauty, sites like Lumbini, Shakyamuni’s birthplace, Lord Shiva's shrines, tallest peaks of the world and the great Himalayan civilization have been made objects of little attraction. For Nepal, thus, self realization and self strengthening is the first step towards the improvement of our nation and it is the only way out. We also have to take into consideration the suggestions of China and other friendly countries. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying, during her recent trip to Nepal, said, “regional level wellbeing can be made through the collaborative move of Nepal, India, Bhutan including other nations”. This idea is thought provoking and deserves a positive response. Any suggestion to complement Nepal's national aspiration and to benefit South Asian region with China’s participation is most welcome. Nevertheless, it is also a fact that none of the South Asian nations, irrespective of their size, has the capacity to build a huge hydro project on its own and we all know, China is one of the biggest investors and lenders in the world. Against the backdrop, China's cooperation in the overall economic development of South Asia is necessary.
Strategically, Nepal's importance for China is not less than any other country. So is China for Nepal. Nepal’s success in preventing the advancing imperial British from reaching the Himalayas in 1814-16 Anglo-Nepal war, though it was costly for Kathmandu, provided strong security crest to China’s South-western region. This is one of the glowing illustrations of how Nepal contributed to China’s security. The fact is that Nepal remained a formidable power even after ceding nearly half of its territory to the British imperialists after three years’ long war (1814-16). Chinese scholars and military experts are well aware of it. In his Plans for Maritime Defense, 1942, Wei Yuan, a Chinese official, reviewing the "enemy countries of which the British barbarians are afraid" pointed to "Russia, France and America” in the West and “the Gurkhas [of Nepal], Burma, Siam [Thailand] and Annam [northern Vietnam]” in the East as conceivable candidates. Wei Yuan imagined two-pronged Russia and Gurkha attack on Britain’s most distant and poorly defended interests, its Indian Empire”. (On China by Henry Kissinger, page 62) A few decades before this observation, South Asian nations which were under the British occupation were expecting Nepal to lead them for their liberation.
I have given here some of the accounts of our history and also the study of a Chinese official with the objective that the Nepalese people remember their past glorious days and the importance of Nepal-China strategic relation. Though present Nepal is once again in the worst decline in its twenty five hundred years history, it is still contributing to China's security as far as it can. We know our great neighbor China appreciates it. But, all of us should acknowledge the stark reality that only a fully sovereign and strong Nepal can build a strong and strategic relation with China. However, Nepal will always stick to one China policy and will never allow anti-Chinese forces to operate from its soil. Let's hope for the best in Nepal-China relations.
Text courtesy: Look Magazine.