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Nepal’s Neighbors: A Study In Contrast

Nepal’s Neighbors: A Study In Contrast

By Krishna Singh Bam

The revelation in a recent survey that communist China is viewed more favorably than the United States by much of the world has come as a shock even to those Americans aware of the tattered international image of their nation two years after the Iraq invasion.

The Pew Research Centre for the People & the Press, which surveyed public opinion in 16 countries, found that almost two-thirds of Britons saw China favorably, compared with 55 percent who held a positive view of the United States. In France, 58 percent had an upbeat view of China, compared with 43 percent who felt that way about the United States. The results were nearly the same in Spain and the Netherlands.

The U.S. favorability rating was lowest among three Muslim nations which are also American allies - Turkey, Pakistan and Jordan - where only about one-fifth of those polled viewed the US in a positive light.

As a Nepali, one can understand why China’s popularity ratings are on the ascendancy. China’s relations with Nepal stand in refreshing contrast to those pursued by its southern neighbor, India, which has consistently interfered in the kingdom’s affairs for petty gains. Ever since Nepal and China established diplomatic relations in 1955, Beijing has conducted itself in the full traditions of good neighborliness.

Demolishing the menacing myths propagated by the anti-Chinese lobbies in India and the West following the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949, Beijing has exhibited great steadfastness in supporting Nepal’s quest to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity. In the sphere of economic development, China began demonstrating its generosity when it had its own immediate priorities at home. Placing special emphasis on infrastructure projects like roads, transportation and industries, China provided the kingdom an early spur towards self-reliance.

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In the field of human-resource development, the Chinese government began offering scholarships to Nepalese students soon after diplomatic relations were established. That process gathered pace with the opening up of China in the late 1970s and the liberalization of its education sector.

Under the palace-led partyless Panchayat system, Nepal-China ties were continually strengthened by Kings Mahendra and Birendra and such Chinese leaders as Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping. The restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990 was expected to take bilateral relations to a higher content through broader public participation. Instead, successive democratic leaders chose to snub the northern neighbor, often in a thinly guised attempt to please their Indian patrons.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s privatization program in the early 1990s exclusively focused primarily on doing away with Chinese-assisted projects like Bansbari Leather and Shoe Factory. Even Nepalese communist leaders have left no stone unturned to ignore China, especially when it comes to appeasing their ideological allies in the Indian state of West Bengal. Even the most senior Nepalese leaders have failed to grasp the content and meaning of China’s relations with Nepal. In an act of utter tactlessness in 2002, Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala, who was invited by Chinese officials keen to strengthen party-to-party relations, proceeded directly to India, ostensibly to brief his patrons on his talks in Beijing.

Indeed, prejudice has been a major pastime of the Indian lobby in Nepal, which wants to preserve an exclusive right to dictate matters of policy and procedure the kingdom. During Premier Zhou Enlai’s visit to Nepal in 1960, Indian journalists and pro-Delhi elements within the Nepali press sought to mar the occasion by raking up the issue of ownership of Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak. Although Prime Minister B.P. Koirala appeared to take a more nuanced position on the Tibet question, his Nepali Congress colleagues engaged in relentless diatribes.

General Secretaries Surya Prasad Upadhyaya and Ganesh Man Singh, who had issued a scathing statement against China days before the Koirala government had taken office, continued to spearhead the anti-China campaign within the ruling party. It would be difficult to believe that these moves were pursued without at least the tacit support of Koirala. Moreover, the fact that youths allied to the Nepali Congress were at the forefront of anti-Chinese protests cannot be considered coincidental.

In recent years, the Indian lobby in Nepal has worked overtime to propagate the myth that China is behind Nepal’s Maoist insurgency. China, which refuses to recognize the rebels as Maoists, has come a far way since the days of Mao Zedong. In fact, many Chinese today wish to forget the excesses of the Cultural Revolution and forced collectivization of agriculture, which the Nepalese rebels still believe in.

India, on the other hand, has provided sanctuary, weapons and training to Nepalese Maoist rebels. A few weeks ago, Indian intelligence agencies were chaperoning Maoist ideologue Dr. Baburam Bhattarai during his talks with top Indian and Nepali leaders in New Delhi. All this comes at a time when the Indian government has labeled the Nepalese Maoists a terrorist group and has been backing the Royal Nepalese Army’s anti-insurgency operations. Indian hypocrisy has deepened suspicions of the country’s real motives in Nepal.

Over the last decade, China has grown into a formidable global economic power. Its solid growth rate has left the Americans and Europeans in a profound state of awe. China's economy depends heavily on exports to the United States and Beijing uses the surplus to buy American Treasury bills, thereby financing the sole superpower’s fiscal deficit.

In recent times, China has been playing a more assertive role in international affairs. As one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, China often abstained from voting. In the latest UN resolution on Iraq, China played an active role in improving the original Anglo-American resolution, thereby ensuring its unanimous adoption. Washington, for its part, has been relying on Beijing to negotiate an end to North Korea's nuclear weapons pr ograms. The White House recently supported China's entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which aims to restrict the proliferation of nuclear technology.

Beijing also has stepped up its involvement in the cause of developing nations. During last month's World Bank poverty conference in Shanghai, China established itself as a forceful advocate for the developing world. China also is moving to strengthen ties with Latin American states. It is now a permanent observer at the Organization of American States and aims to become a shareholder of the Inter-American Development Bank.

China’s interest in the Middle East goes far beyond ensuring reliable oil supplies to fuel its industrial progress. President Hu Jintao and other Chinese leaders have steadily raised their profile in the Middle East as a way of contributing to peace and stability in the world.

With regard to Nepal, President Hu has a first-hand understanding of the quality of relations the two contiguous neighbors aspire to, developed in no small measure during his stint as party chief in Tibet between 1988 and 1992. Chinese leaders have affirmed that whatever changes took place in the world and the region would definitely not alter China's good-neighboring policy towards Nepal.

In recent months, Nepal and China have stepped up efforts to promote cooperation in various fields. The first direct passenger bus service linking Kathmandu and Tibet began in May. Efforts at developing Nepal as a transit point between China and India have received a fresh impetus. Nepal expects to provide the transit facility with the objective of expanding its service sector and physical infrastructure deve lopment . A Nepalese government study has identified three alternative routes linking the three countries.

A Chinese delegation was recently in Kathmandu to expand cooperation in investment, tourism promotion and infrastructure development. Both sides have agreed to hold trade fairs in Kathmandu and Lhasa.Nepal expects China's modernization of Tibet will assist the development of its own mountainous northern districts. Specifically, the kingdom hopes to benefit from a railway project linking China with Tibet’s heartland, which Beijing plans to complete this year, two years ahead of schedule. Chinese officials say the railway will bring in 5.64 million tourists to Tibet over the next five years. The Lhasa-Kathmandu bus service is likely to benefit.

Kathmandu is planning to set up a special economic zone in its north with Chinese cooperation. Both governments will have special laws, special taxation structure and special investment policies in an effort to ease the access of Nepalese products to Chinese markets.

Nepal and China have taken special interest in developing the kingdom’s vast hydro-electric power potential. China and Australia will invest in West Seti Hydropower project, the biggest hydro-electric project of Nepal with the capacity of 750 megawatt, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported last month. The construction of the $1.2 billion project, likely to begin in September, is scheduled for completion within five and half years. The power generated will be sold to India. The project is expected to yield $29 million in the first year of operation.

Nepal can benefit tremendously from stepped-up political, diplomatic and economic cooperation with China. However, Nepalese leaders must recognize that such a partnership is a two-way street. China, which has long been anxious to prevent Nepal from becoming a launching pad for pro-Tibetan groups, has also been voicing concern that the kingdom could become a base for Islamic separatists active in its north-western Xinjiang region.

The open Nepal-India border, furthermore, exposes China to such undesirable elements as criminals and drug traffickers. The strength of Nepal’s friendship allows China to voice its concerns with the candor it deems appropriate. Nepal, for its part, must address them in the full spirit of cordiality and commitment.


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