By Patial RC
Nepal’s relationship with China dates back to the middle of the seventh century, when Nepal’s armed forays into Tibet led to Chinese intervention. In 1791, Nepal invaded Tibet again, but this resulted in a victory of the Ch’ing over Nepal in 1792. It resulted in the signing of the Sino-Nepalese Treaty of 1792, which provided a tribute-bearing mission from Nepal to China every five years as a symbol of China’s political and economic supremacy in the region thereby forcing the Nepalese to send diplomatic missions with gifts to the Manchu Emperor every five years. The Chinese used to address the King of Nepal with the title of “Wang” considering him a vassal of the Chinese Empire. China’s main interest in Nepal has always been led by its concerns over Tibet, which China has ruled since 1950. The strategic location of Nepal between India and China lends itself to the fact that the influence on Nepal is especially important for control of Tibet. Mao had said that “Tibet was the palm of a hand and its fingers were Ladakh, Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan, and the North-East Frontier Agency, now the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh”.
The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, inaugurated the congress with a three-hour-and-20-minute opening speech. His message was clear: a confident China is coming back to claim its rightful place of the world and find back the past glory of Chinese civilisation. President, Xi appears to be all set to achieve his global ambition and in Nepal particularly from influence he wants to control and make it their satellite.
Towards this grand ambition President Xi Jinping put forward his dream project the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for international cooperation in 2013. Since then, a total of 172 countries and international organizations have signed over 200 cooperation agreements with China and that cumulative trade between China and its BRI partners has exceeded $9.2 trillion. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is also the part of this BRI their flagship program. CPEC is a $62 billion package of projects ranging from transportation, energy, port construction, industrial cooperation, and even social sector development. It has been estimated that besides creating two million new employment opportunities, Pakistan would benefit with at least two percent increase in its GDP per annum! This would also enhance a wider regional connectivity to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
China aware of the geographical and cultural proximity between India and Nepal has been focusing on ending India’s influence over Nepal and it’s over dependence on India. Systematic methodology adopted:
- Chinese Economic Trade War to counter India. Till 1995, trade between China and Nepal was just 0.7 per cent of Nepal’s trade. The rest of 99.03 per cent of its trade was with India. In the early years, Chinese assistance was pledged in projects, and several financial involvements were initiated. From the mid- 90s, the Chinese Government has been pledging to grant assistance to Nepal under the economic and technical cooperation programme to implement mutually acceptable development projects. The volume of such aid had been averaging to the tune of 80 million Yuan every year.China trade with Nepal has quadrupled since 2003.
- Developing Infrastructural Projects. In early 2019, Nepal proposed 9 projects under the BRI which included a feasibility study of the trans-Himalayan Railway connecting from the Chinese port of entry of Jilong/Keyrung to Kathmandu, an extension of a 400 KV electricity transmission line, setting up a technical university in Nepal, and the construction of new roads, tunnels and hydroelectricity dams.To expedite the BRI ventures, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Kathmandu in October 2019. In April, the Chinese ambassador to Nepal, Hou Yanqi, told the Chinese state-run Global Times newspaper that “Nepal was one of the most important pillars of the BRI and that projects were still on track” despite having slowed down due the coronavirus pandemic and Nepal’s change in political landscape.
- China’s has been given the responsibility of developing Lumbini (the birthplace of Buddha) into a world peace city. China, a country which has done its utmost to destroy Buddhism and peace in Tibet- a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to attract Buddhist pilgrims worldwide. China’s growing influence in Nepal, especially towards the Terai bordering India as Lumbini is just 30 kilometres from the Indian border.
- China is courting the Nepalese Communist forces. Liu Jianchao, the head of the International Liaison Department of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), completed his four-day visit to Nepal on July 13.Many analysts have pointed out that one of the goals of the Chinese delegation’s visit was to nudge the Communist forces toward a unified platform. The prospect of a “unified left” appeals to some Nepali communists. Yet no political party, whether the CPN-UML, the CPN-MC, or the CPN-US, wants to make the first move toward unification for fear of appearing desperate or inferior. It remains to be seen if Beijing will succeed in bringing them together this time around. China is also anxious about growing US engagement in Nepal.
- Influence through education. China’s foreign policy influence through education attracts students and hence, builds very strong and beneficial bilateral ties. China is establishing and developing good relations with Nepal by providing loans, grants and scholarships. To great extent, it helps a developing nation to develop. But on the other hand, China also gets lots of advantages by doing so. Nepal is a buffer state between China and India. China is countering India by challenging its power in the cultural, educational and also political arena. When the students go abroad and studies on the scholarship based program and spend time during the course, experiencing a different culture, food habits and people-to-people contacts, plays a great role in influencing and impacting them positively in forming a pro-China opinion.
- Mandarin made mandatory in many schools. Many schools across the country have made it mandatory for students to learn Mandarin China’s official language lured by the Chinese government’s offer to cover salaries of teachers who teach Mandarin.
Chinese ambassador to Nepal, Hou Yanqi’s popularity is soaring in Nepal and she has become successful in “charming” them. Jyoti Malhotra’s opinion piece in The Print reads, “Hou Yanqi’s soaring popularity is the talk of town these days. A key part of her job, of course, is to wean Nepal away from its civilisational embrace of India and offer the charms of Beijing, instead of the all-too-familiar tramping grounds like Delhi and Banaras. By all accounts, she is succeeding rather well.”
Nepalhas always looked at either China or India, given its delicate land-locked position between the two. Nepal’s only aim is to extract maximum benefit from her neighbour’s on both sides. Maintaining a balancing relationship with China remains Nepal’s key and critical component of its foreign policy.On the other hand, India and Nepal share a deep and enduring relationship cemented by shared history, cultureandreligion. As China marches in, it severely restricts the clout India once enjoyed. However, of all the peripheral countries, the geo-strategic location of Nepal gives it particular importance since it is located between two unfriendly neighbours. There is little doubt that India has lost strategic space to China in Nepal. Some reckon the era of ‘special relations between India and Nepal is nearly over as China makes steady inroads into every aspect of Nepalese life. There has been a truly spectacular rise in Chinese influence and a corresponding fall in Indian hold and influence on Nepal. China is succeeding in its design to restrict Indian influence and enhance its control over Nepal. Every Indian wishes Nepal and the Nepalese people well and we take pride in our Hindu neighbour, the land of proud Gurkhas. It is also interesting to note that this landlocked nation in our neighbourhood is the only nation to have never been colonized by British or conquered by any outsider. Hope Nepal follows its traditional policies and do not fall in the Chinese trap like Sri Lanka.
China in Nepal: Another proxy war with India? By Lt Gen Shokin Chauhan