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China and Nepal: Sixty Years of Togetherness

- Nepal-Tianli

July 19

Henry Kissinger in his book World Order has briefly mentioned about the historical role of geopolitics in Nepal’s relation with two immediate neighbors- China to the North and India to the South. Kissinger says, “Nepal skillfully balanced its diplomatic posture between the ruling dynasties in China and those in India—offering letters and gifts that were interpreted as tribute in China but recorded as evidence of equal exchanges in Nepal, then holding out a special tie with China as a guarantee of Nepal’ s independence vis-à-vis India” (179). Undoubtedly, owing to geographical proximity, easy access and contacts, Nepal has more interactions with South than the North. Still Nepal has close relation and affinity with North. Multi-faced relations with China since antiquity stand as a testimony to the same fact. Interacting with big neighbors by a small nation is of course a “herculean task”. Nepal as a small state and China as the big neighbor, the relation is however marked by decorum of friendlessness, generosity, and cordiality, notwithstanding the geo-political sensitivities. China has always paid heed for the social and economic development of Nepal through investment, grants and infrastructure building. To exemplify, China has recently agreed to provide a grant assistance of RMB 800 million (128 million U.S. dollars) to the Nepalese government under the Economic and Technical Cooperation between the two countries. During an official visit to Nepal on December 25-27 of 2014, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced to increase the grant assistance to RMB 800 million from the erstwhile RMB 150 million. In addition, China has also kindly offered 3 billion yuan ($483 million) in aid for Nepal’s reconstruction after a massive earthquake jolted the Himalayan country on April 25. To throw light on the economic relations, local trade had existed between Tibet and Kathmandu until the economic relations were institutionalised by the signing of an Agreement on Trade between People’s Republic of China and Nepal on September 20, 1956. The first 'Agreement between China and Nepal on Economic Aid' (20 million Indian Rupees in cash and 40 million rupees for aided projects) was signed in October 1956. Ever since, China has been providing financial and technical assistance to Nepal, which has greatly contributed to Nepal's development especially in infrastructure building, establishment of industries, human resource development, health, sports, etc. In the early years, Chinese assistance was pledged in terms of projects and no financial involvement therein was mentioned. From mid-90s, the Chinese Government has been pledging grant assistance to Government under the Economic and Technical Cooperation programme in order to implement mutually acceptable development projects. According to Asian Development Bank, China plans to enhance trade with Nepal to the level of US $30 billion by 2025. China’s effort to extend 253-km Lhasa-Shigatse section of Qinghai-Tibet Railway to Kyirong along the Nepal-Tibet border is a step in this direction. China would want to bring its train closer to Nepal-Tibet border in the near future. Chinese railway teams have, apparently, completed surveys for extension of this railway to Kathmandu and further to Lumbini, which is just 25 km from Indo-Nepal border. India is apprehensive that Chinese workers engaged in railway project in Nepal could have ulterior motives. Despite the geographical hindrance, connectivity has emerged as the new dimension in Nepal-China relations. The Syaphrubesi-Rasuwa Gadhi road is expected to be used to increase the volume of trade between the two countries. China has constructed Kyirong Rasuwa land port and opened it on December 1, 2014. Local markets are already flooded with Chinese goods. So much so that even the idols of different Hindu Gods and Goddesses that were once sourced from India are now imported from China. Nepal and China are family across the Himalayas. Although the Himalayan mountains spreading thousands of kilometers at the south of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau or the world’s third pole divides China and Nepal on its northern and southern side, geography has not separated two countries. Sixty years of Sino-Nepal diplomatic ties stand as evidence to the same fact. In the context of Nepal-China relations, Geo-economics is gradually shifting geopolitics. Nepal today is seen as the most significant trade gateway for China’s Tibet to open itself to South Asia which definitely strengthens China’s Belt and Road Initiatives Strategy. For many years Nepal has been the largest trading partner of China’s Tibet. In 2014, the biggest inland trading port between China and Nepal known as Gyirong Port was opened further and of course cross border trade has been benefited to a large extent. Similarly, nearly 65 percent construction works of the dry port at Tatopani was already completed before April 25 quake struck Nepal. To simplify and facilitate trade with China through Tatopani customs, the dry port is being constructed at Larcha of Tatopani with the financial support of Chinese government worth Rs 1.20 billion (86. 2 Yuan). The dry port spread over 90 ropanis area is located at a distance of six kilometers from the Tatopani customs. Unfortunately, Tatopani fell prey to the massive destruction caused by April 25 quake. But China proved herself as a “friend in need is friend indeed” in helping Nepal for reconstruction and most importantly, Chinese army assisted Nepalese army to reopen the Araniko Highway (which links Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal with the Chinese border) disrupted by the landslides triggered by the quake. Chinese traffic police helped to clear the roads from Zhangmu ( Tatopani) to Barabise in Sindhupalchowk district in Nepal and Kerung to Syaphrubesi in Rasuwa district in
Nepal that were damaged by the earthquake by sending 500 officers and men and 180 construction machines. They rushed to keep the road for rescue operation. After Nepal was hit by the massive quake of 7.8, Tibet Autonomous Region(TAR) government announced its support on the very day of the earthquake. The Vice Chairman of TAR, Mr. Bianbazhaxi announced TAR Government’s support worth 7.5 million yuan. In the very first week of the Earthquake, Tibet sent all kinds of emergency disaster relief worth 520,000 yuan RMB, weighing 21.5 tons. Besides sending teams of rescue experts, medical personnel and relief supplies to Nepal in the immediate aftermath of the quake, China has also pledged to continue providing help in the future. Between 2016 and 2018, it will give Nepal close to US$500 million of grant assistance. The money will be channeled into five major areas: infrastructure, livelihood, cultural-site renovations, disaster preparedness and health. Albeit there were many historical incidents and events dating back even to almost one thousand years ago which have always enhanced the relations between two countries, diplomatic relations between the two countries were established only in 1955 on the basis of Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. Since then Sino-Nepal ties have been multidimensional- political, economic, strategic, cultural, academic. The idea of multidimensionality in Nepal-China relations was eloquently expressed by President of Nepal Ram Baran Yadav in his visit to China this year: “Nepal and China are closely connected, both geographically and culturally, and this age-old friendship stood the test of time”. One of the hallmarks of all-weather friendship is the evolutionary nature. The bilateral relationship between Nepal and China has evolved in different periods of time but some ingredients including Nepal’s adherence to One China Policy and China assisting Nepal in socio-economic development have largely remained the same. Nepal recognized Tibet as a part of China in 1956 and has unwaveringly stuck to the One-China policy. The Himalaya and Buddha together are considered as the pillars of Nepal- China ties. Former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai during his visit to Nepal in February of 1957 referred to them as "blood ties between Nepal and China". In 1960, however, Zhaou Enlai had visited Nepal to formalize the treaty of peace and friendship with Nepal’s first elected Prime Minister BP Koirala. Since then, Nepal-China bilateral relations have witnessed many high-level exchanges between the two countries involving the heads of state and of government from both nations. China is considering extending a railway line linking the country to Nepal via a tunnel under Mount Everest. The Qinghai-Tibet railway already links the rest of China with the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, and beyond, and an extension running as far as the international border is already being planned “at Nepal’s request”. The growing Chinese presence in Nepal goes beyond roads and railways, with massive hydroelectric projects, airports and a pilgrimage centre at Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, all slated to receive substantial funding from Beijing. The number of tourists from China is also rising rapidly. Though overall tourist arrivals by air declined in 2014, visitors from China grew by nearly 20% to more than 71,107. More flight connections are also planned. Chinese-made goods flood the markets of Kathmandu and Pokhara, the western Nepalese city, and new language schools teaching Mandarin – generously subsidized by Beijing – are increasingly popular. Nepal has always supported China in all the multilateral forums and initiatives. Of late, Nepal has signed the article of agreement of the Asian Infrastructure Investment
Bank (AIIB) to become one of the founding members of the China-led institution. According to a study done by World Bank Nepal, Nepal needs $13-18 billion from 2011-20 to bridge the investment gap in infrastructure, and the establishment of the AIIB has given another window for Nepal to obtain resources. The bank has aimed to invest in the infrastructure sector of Asian countries where the resource gap in the infrastructure sector is immense. The share capital of the to-be-established AIIB is estimated to be $100 billion. However, its initial paid-up capital will be $50 billion. Nepal has planned to invest Rs1.60 billion in the bank. The country has been given a longer time to come up with the capital than other developed and developing countries, according to Finance Ministry officials. The metaphor of Bridge/transit has been added to the idea of connectivity in Nepal-China relations. The metaphor of bridge has made the relationship trilateral: China-Nepal-India. China has taken a firm step to extend the Silk Road Economic Belt to South Asia, by working out a blueprint of connecting Nepal with the Eurasian transport corridor. In December of 2014, Nepal formally signed a four-point document endorsing the Silk Road Economic Belt — a pet project of President Xi Jinping for connecting Asia with Europe along a land corridor, with China as its hub. The agreement was signed during a meeting in Beijing of the Nepal-China Inter-governmental Business and Investment Coordination. Under the new Silk Route blueprint, the Chinese want to open up the transportation channel from the Pacific to the Baltic Sea, from which would radiate rail and road routes, which would also connect with East Asia, West Asia, and South Asia. China wants to connect with Nepal and South Asia through an extension of the Qinghai-Tibet railway. The rail line from Lhasa has already been extended to Shigatse, Tibet’s second largest city, 253 km away. The Chinese plan to build two lines from Shigatse. One would lead to Kerung, the nearest Chinese town from Nepal, from where it would be extended to Rasuwagadhi in Nepal. The other line would head to Yadong on the India-Bhutan border. Undoubtedly, Nepal-China relations have been influenced by diverse and complex factors ranging from geographical and economic to political and cultural ingredients. Owing to the same fact, China needs to be assured that bilateral relations will further improve down the road by making them more people-oriented even if the political system changes in Nepal. There is an emergent interest to develop people-to-people relationship between Nepal and China. As mentioned in the book, “Sixty Years of Dynamic Partnership” by Hiranya Lal Shrestha, who himself in an expert in international relations, the first Non-Resident Nepali was Buddhabhadra, who lived in China from 409-429 AD. On the footsteps of Bhuddhabhadra, Newar merchants from Kathmandu visited Lhasa in the 7th century for business purpose. Following the marriage of Princess Bhrikuti( crowned as Green Star in Tibet), Newars from Kathmandu expanded their trade during early Malla period( 1100-1480 AD). With Nepal and Tibet inking treaties, the trade was later formalized and Newar merchants were allowed to run 32 business houses in Lhasa. In the modern time after the diplomatic relations were established in fifties, Nepalese started visiting Hong Kong as part of the Gurkha regiment of the British Army. After Hong Kong became an autonomous region of mainland China, Nepalese started going Hong King for business purposes. At present, they are about 0.5 per cent of the total population. Nepalese are also present in Macau in service sectors while in Taiwan Nepalese have been doing business and also Nepalese students are pursuing higher education in
Taiwan. Some of the monasteries in Taiwan do have Nepali Buddhist monks. People to People relations have been further improved after a sister-city relationship was established between Pokhara and Linxie of Tibet Autonomous Region in October of 2008. Similarly, a sister-city relationship was constituted between Pokhara and Kunming, which is the capital city of Yunnan province of China, in Jaunary of 2011. Another sister-city relationship was established between Dharan and Dejau of Sangdung province in the September of 2011. These sorts of relationships have facilitated to increase the number of Chinese tourists coming to Nepal extensively. In 2001, about 9,000 Chinese tourists came to Nepal, and this number increased to 90, 000 in 2013 which is second to Indian tourists coming to Nepal. The number of Chinese is expected to increase more in coming years. It is significant to note that so far, Nepal is the only country having direct air link between Kathmandu and Lhasa. It has provided a good opportunity for Nepalese and foreign tourists to visit Tibet from Kathmandu. Indisputably, China is Nepal’s friend in need and deed, and to embrace such a friend in every walks of life Nepal ought to sought a pragmatic policy which accentuates on preventing the outlook comprehending China through foreign eyes. Nepal has her own eyes—of historical ties that bind, of cultural relations that connect, of the geography that unites-- to apprehend China. Sixty years of diplomatic togetherness has made the sight clearer and foresighted.


Extracted from the book "Nepal and China: All- weather Friends"


Photo courtesy: travelnewsnepal.com

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