By B. Raman
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China, who had cancelled a scheduled visit to Nepal in December for unexplained reasons, halted in Kathmandu for a little more than four hours on January 14,2012, while on his way from Beijing to Saudi Arabia for an official visit.
This is the first time a Chinese Prime Minister had visited Nepal since the visit of the then Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji in 2001. There have been a number of high-level visits of political and military figures from Nepal to China since the Nepalese Maoists came overground, suspended their insurgency and joined the power structure in Nepal, but reciprocal visits from the Chinese side to Nepal were very few.
However, the Chinese have considerably stepped up assistance to the Nepalese since the end of the monarchy in 2008 and established a “comprehensive and cooperative partnership” with Nepal in 2009.
China has strong security concerns in Nepal due to the presence of about 20,000 Tibetan refugees in Nepalese territory and their support to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the radical Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC).
These concerns have been magnified by fresh indicators of unrest in the Tibetan community of China—particularly in Western Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai regions. There have been 16 self-immolation attempts since the beginning of last year by pro-Dalai Lama monks and others. Twelve of them were reported last year and four in the first 15 days of this year. Fourteen of these attempts were in Western Sichuan and one each in Tibet and Qinghai.
The large-scale round-up and detention in a special military camp of suspected pro-Dalai Lama monks of the Kirti monastery in Sichuan last year have aggravated the situation leading to frequent public demonstrations in support of those attempting self-immolation. The public demonstrations remained largely non-violent last year, but since the beginning of this year there have been two violent attacks by enraged Tibetans on Police Stations.
In the latest violent attack reported on January 14, a crowd of about 1000 Tibetans demanding the body of a Tibetan who committed self-immolation the same day attacked a police station where, they suspected, the body was kept. The Police reportedly opened fire to disperse the protesters killing two of them—one of them a woman.
The affected areas have been far away from the Nepal border. The fact that Tibet itself has remained relatively calm with only one incident last year would indicate that these self-immolations and the subsequent protest demonstrations were largely spontaneous due to local anger against the Chinese security forces and not inspired or instigated by the Tibetan refugees in Nepal.
The Chinese are worried over the danger of a recrudescence of unrest and violence in Tibet, particularly Lhasa, similar to the violent outbreak of 2008 and have stepped up pressure on the Nepalese authorities to tighten controls over the refugees and to allow the Chinese Ministries of Public and State Security to post more intelligence officers in the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu.
During his brief visit to Kathmandu, Wen met, among others, Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav and Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai.
Wen was quoted by the local media as saying as follows: “My trip is aimed at consolidating good-neighbourly friendship, deepening cooperation and boosting the joint development of China and Nepal.”
A joint statement issued at the end of his visit said: “As a close neighbour of Nepal, the Chinese side is pleased to see the progress in the peace process in Nepal and sincerely hopes that Nepal will realize peace, stability and prosperity, including the drafting of a new constitution in the near future. Nepal firmly supports the efforts of the Chinese side to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity and will not allow any force to engage in anti-China activities by using Nepali territory,”
Wen was further quoted as saying: “China and Nepal are good neighbours, good friends and good partners. China supports Nepal’s peace and constitutional process, and its efforts to safeguard independence, sovereignty, territorial integration and national unification. China is ready to provide, within its capacity, assistance to Nepal for economic and social development and believes that Nepal can overcome difficulties to realize the goal of building a new Nepal.”.
Wen reportedly pledged $140 million in aid to Nepal of which US $ 20 million would be spent on consolidating the peace process and US $ two million for strengthening the police. Nepal has reportedly sought Chinese assistance for a modern airport at Pokhra, for the development of its railway network and for the construction of three hydel power stations.