Nepal China Relations: Some Reflections

- Prof. Dr. Jaya Rai Acharya

Nepali sscholar

.. it is Nepal’s belief that simultaneous pursuit of friendship with India and China is in its best national interest and also in the interest of a wider regional community It is the central principle of non-alignment to promote interdependence and not confrontation among nations, and in Nepal’s case interdependence between India and China and Nepal is a geographical compulsion”

Yadu Nath Khanal, “Nepal between

India and China: An Aspect of Evolving Balance in Asia”, Cambridge: Harvard University, Center for

International Affairs, 1970.

What Professor Yadu Nath Khanal (1913-2004) wrote in 1970 remains as valid today as it was then. This observation, based on the unchangeable factor of geography, remains a fact of Nepal’s foreign policy indicated also by the statement of Prithvj Narayan Shaha (1743-1775) the unifier of modem Nepal, who described the country metaphorically as a “yam between two boulders.”

Nepal-China relations go back, much before the unification modem Nepal, to ancient times as evidenced by the visits of the Buddhist monks and scholars from both countries, marriage of Nepali Princess Bhrikuti to the Tibetan King Shrong Chen Ganpo, and artist Araniko who went to China and built many architecti monumen and idols and made Paubha paintings some of which still survive. Those relations indicate the ancient religious and cultural dimensions of Nepal relations.

Although not very big in volume, trade between the Tibetan region of China and Nepal has also been an important and Continuous process for centuries, which is the reason why Nepal has maintained a consulate in Lhasa. in fact, Nepal may be the only country that has a consulate in Lhasa indicating close bilateral relations that are not limited only to the governme level but also people level. There are marriage relations between the Tibetans in Lhasa and Newar families from Kathmandu . The Shakyas and other trading families from Kathn valley have been running businesses in Lhasa for centuries.

Modem diplomatic relations between Nepal and the People’s Republic of China, formally established in 1955, have been steadily growing stronger with increasing volume of trade and development cooperation between the two countries Since the very beginning, China has been giving development aid to Nepal despite the fact China was not as prosperous then as it is now. Chinese aid projects for Nepal’s social and economic development havenot Only been quite visible but also highly appreciated by the people of Nepal. They have had along-term and comprehensive impact on our national life.

Chinese foreign policy towards Nepal is seen as based on the practice of Panchasheel, the five principles of peaceful coexistence, and Chinese diplomacy and aid prograrns conducted in such a way that they have earned real goodwill and respect of the Nepalese people. For instance, China signed the bound treaty with Nepal in 1961, thus allaying any fear or doubt down to the  in Nepal and elsewhere that it may have a territorial ambition in its neighborhood. Certain points of dispute on the boundary lines were settled amicably between the two sides. The conversation between B. P. Koirala and Mao Zedong in 1960 related to the boundary issues was indicative of flexibility and accommodativeness of Chinese diplomacy. To quote the conversation between Mao and BP in this respect:

:Mao: We have a vast land of 9.6 million sq km. with a large part uncultivated. It is a crime to take others’ land and not run one’s own country well. Have we invaded Nepal? We do not want a single inch of Nepalese land. Can we sign a border and erect boundary markers?

Prime MinisterB.P. Koirala: Yes, we can. I have discussed it with Premier Zhou Enlai.

Mao: Do you agree?

BP: An official marking of the boundary is needed.

Mao: It is necessary to mark the boundary. Once it is drawn, there can be an unpatrolled zone. The length of the unpatrolled border can be decided through consultation. If you like, we can have a clause stipulating an unpatrolled border area, the length of which can be worked out through consultation. It will be 40 km altogether if each side has 20 km, 20 km if each side has ten km, ten km if each side has five kilometers. It is up to your convenience. How about it?

BP: It is worth considering.

Mao: If you are interested, we can sign a friendly treaty of non-aggression. We are a big country and we never suspect you will invade us, but you may suspect that we shall invade you. We would commit a blunder if we broke the treaty after it was signed.

Thus China has built in Nepal an image of a ‘peaceful and helpful neighbor’,and the Chinese aid is consistently increasing. With the rapid modernization and opening of China to the international community, there are hundreds of Nepalese students studying in various disciplines such as medicine, engineering and international relations there. More and more Nepalese youths are also learning Chinese language realizing its importance in the recent context where China has emerged as a global power. This trend is likely to increase in the days to come.

Kodari Highway, Prithvi Highway and Narayan Ghat-Gorkha Highway built with Chinese aid haveeased transportation and life of Nepalese people in general; they have been part of the life-line particularly for the people of the capital city Kathmandu. Nepal’s imports even from India to Kathmandu come through Prithvi Highway, in the construction of which Chinese efficiency was observed by the people of Nepal. Although the trolley-bus infrastructure built by the Chinese

aid in Kathmandu has now been dismantled, one can see that it could be one of the best modes of transportation operated by electricity in Nepal that has great potentials in this area. There are also possibilities of more roads connecting Nepal with the autonomous region of Tibet. China has built important infrastructures particularly roads in Nepal to enhance deeper and long-term relations. One cannot rule out the possibility of electric rail between China and Nepal that has considerable hydropower potentials.

Rasuwagadhi-Gaichiroad under construction is expected to enhance greater connectivity and trade between the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China and Nepal. There are many other passes through the Himalayan mountain range that can be opened as trade routes for the benefits of Nepal, China and India. We are talking about opening all possible passes through Nepal to India. The low-level passes, their actual heights and the length of roads from Nepal-China border to Nepal-India border indicate good possibilities for trilateral connectivity — although it may not look like an immediate possibility in view of th’e difficulties Nepal-India relations experienced in 1990 and 2015.

The point of balance for Nepal in its relations with India and China is a dynamic proposition and it may shift, albeit slowly, with several factors affecting it as it has been observed in recent times. However, the basic structure of balance can be expected to remain intact. With proper vision and plan, Nepal, India and China can work upon the possibilities for everyone’s benefits through Nepal. The trans-Himalayan passes through Nepal indicate good trade possibilities.

One can see that at least three passes on Nepal-China border are much lower in elevation than others including the one at Nathu La (4,310 m) in Sikkim for all-weather roads. These roads through Nepal can be part of China’s Silk Road plan to connect South and South-West Asia. They will also facilitate the trade enhancement and diversification possibilities for Nepal. Nepal, lying between India and China, should be aware of the developments in relations between the two giant neighbors. The trade volume between them, somewhere around US$70 billion in 2014, is expected to increase and hit 100 billion soon. Good friendly relations and negotiations on the question of trade benefits can lead to everyone’s prosperity. For this to happen, Nepal needs a leadership with long-term vision and credibility based on honesty and patriotism caring for public interest rather than personal profit.

Nepal and China have already agreed to prepare a joint project on infrastructure development of the Nepal-China Silk Road Economic Belt. The agreement in principle is to develop the infrastructures of the Economic Belt by using the $40 billion fund set up by China.China has been urging neighboring countries to be part of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 20° Century Maritime Silk Route proposal forwarded by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The Chinese proposal to Nepal was reported to include development of rail network from Tibet to Kathmandu to Patna, India. China is already one of the top trading partners of India.

China, with its increased economic and technological prowess, can be seen as marching on its journey to regain its ancient glory and its commensurate role in global affairs. Given the similar ambitions of India, this region has attracted attention of the Western powers in many ways. In view of the developments taking place in these two great neighbors of ours and other countries of East Asia and Southeast Asia, some observes in the West have described the international affairs focused on Asia. Nepal, situated, between the Asian giants, has to be aware of thisnewly emerging paradigm of international relations in this region. There are both opportunities and challenges for Nepal in the days to health education and services and environment. Nepal can utilize Chinese investment and generous grants in all these areas. Improvement in road and air transportation, greater investment in hydropower generation and organic agriculture are potential areas of benefits for all. Nepal’s geography and climate conditions provide opportunities to Chinese businesses. China can open banks and businesses for its own citizens coming to Nepal as toqrists. They can benefit the Nepali people as well.

There is growing connectivity between Nepal and China through many trans Himalayan flights to Kathmandu from many cities in China that facilitate not only the arrival of Chinese tourists in Nepal but many other tourists through Chinese cities to East Asian cities and even to the United States.

Cooperation in health and education sector have also great potentials. B. P. Cancer Hospital in Chitwan and Civil Servants Hospital in Kathmandu built by China have been providing critical healthcare services to the people of Nepal and India across the southern border. China has also assisted Nepal Army hospital in a substantive manner.

Engineering an environmental protection can be other fruitful areas for cooperation. Sky is the limit if we work on those areas.

Text courtesy: Friendship journal of Nepal and China studies published by China Study center, CSC, April 10, 2016: Thanks the author and Published: Ed. 

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