The deepening of ties between Kathmandu and Beijing is a serious setback for New Delhi. China scored one more goal but it’s difficult to say how far this story will continue
In politics, there is little difference between love and sycophancy — the case of Nepal is particularly telling. The social media was recently buzzing with news that some Tibetans had protested “against an utterly ridiculous demand from Nepal’s China sycophant politicians to ban the use of the khata, the traditional Tibetan white scarf, because it was hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.” Whether true or not, the sensitivity of “hurting the feelings of the Chinese people” is nowadays prevalent all over the world with Nepali politicians at the vanguard of the movement.
The “love” has increased further after Nepal President Bidhya Devi Bhandari spent nine days in China on a State visit. The invitation had come from Chinese President Xi Jinping himself. The first part of the visit coincided with the Second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on April 27. President Bhandari held high-level meetings with the top Chinese leadership; they “exchanged substantive views on further strengthening and consolidating the ties of co-operative friendship and mutually beneficial partnership subsisting between the two countries,” according to an official communique.
More importantly, the Himalayan nation signed seven agreements with its giant northern neighbour; it included a protocol for an Agreement on Transit Transport; an accord on Cooperation and Mutual Administrative Assistance in Customs Matters and one on strengthening assistance and cooperation in the field of livelihood in the Northern Region of Nepal (ie the border with Tibet).
The ruling Nepal Communist Party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, alias Prachanda, was quick to assert that a railway line will connect Kathmandu to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) “within his lifetime.” Prachanda also affirmed that the railway will be later extended to Lumbini and Pokhara. It will be “a milestone in Nepal’s economic development and growth of the tourism sector”, he said.
The Government of Nepal had announced earlier that technical studies for the construction of railway lines linking Nepal with India and China have been completed. Bhandari specifically told the Parliament: “The Rasuwagadhi-Kathmandu railways will be started within two years.” Rasuwa is the border post town with Tibet (Kyirong). The line between Shigatse and Kyirong was much delayed due to the 2015 earthquake but now it is expected to be completed by 2023.
In May 2017, Beijing had already signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Kathmandu for roads, railways, ports and aviation as well as hydropower and energy projects, finance and tourism as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.
Xi assured Bhandari of China’s support to make a “Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali.” Before returning to Kathmandu, the Nepali President spent a day in Lhasa; the main purpose of the visit was re-emphasising Nepal’s commitment to the “One China” policy.
As the Japanese newspaper The Nikkei wrote, “The price is paid in diplomatic support for Beijing: The Nepalese consulate in Lhasa, the only foreign diplomatic mission in the Tibetan capital, recently reiterated unwavering support for Beijing’s claims to both Tibet and Taiwan.”
Incidentally, India had a full-fledged mission in Lhasa till 1952 and a Consulate-General till 1962. Today, Beijing adamantly refuses to reopen it, wanting India to go through Nepal authorities for trans-border trade. Examples abound to show the ongoing love story. Nepal has chosen a railway track gauge used by China as standard for its network; Kathmandu justifies the choice by the lower Chinese costs. The move is a serious setback for Delhi, which has failed to limit Beijing’s control over Nepal.
Minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transport Raghubir Mahaseth told Reuters that his Government will ask India to use the Chinese gauge: “Standard gauge is less expensive,” was the rationale.
Even Nepal’s borders with Tibet are looked after by Beijing. According to The Kathmandu Post, Kathmandu has permitted the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA) to provide development assistance in 15 northern districts of Nepal “to meet their developmental needs”; these districts share a common border with Tibet. The agency was set up in August 2018 in order to strengthen “the strategic planning and overall coordination of the Chinese aid to Nepal.”
One unsaid objective is to stop Tibetans fleeing their native land and taking refuge in India. It has been remarkably efficient. On May 12, the Nepal Intermodal Transport Development Board signed with Tibet Fuli Construction Group, a Chinese company, an agreement to construct the inland container depot in Timure in Rasuwa district. Built with Chinese aid, the project is expected to cost $20 million and is expected to be completed in 30 months. The Chinese Government will construct the dry port on five hectares of land provided by Nepal; a parking yard with a capacity to park 350 trucks and containers will be built.
In another news, more on the ridiculous side, according to The Kathmandu Post, Nepal’s leading English language newspaper, three journalists working for the Rastriya Samachar Samiti (RSS), Nepal’s national news agency, are being probed for disseminating a news item regarding the Dalai Lama.
What is their crime? The journalists “translated and disseminated” a wire report about the Lama’s return to Dharamsala on April 27, after he was discharged from a hospital in New Delhi. Minister for Communications and Information Technology Gokul Baskota confirmed to The Post that an investigation was on; Baskota said that the Tibet issue was sensitive for China and dissemination of a report regarding the Dalai Lama’s health by a state-run news agency was against Nepal’s commitment to “One-China policy.” Sycophancy of the first order!
Also in the tragi-comedy category, Pradip Yadav of the Samajbadi Party and Iqabal Miya of the Rastriya Janata Party, two Members of the Nepali Parliament, recently participated in an event organised by the Latvian Parliamentary Support Group for Tibet and the International Network of Parliamentarians for Tibet.
The convention in Riga was attended by Lobsang Sangay, president of the Central Tibetan Administration, along with other members of the Tibetan Parliament. Soon after, an official at the Parliament Secretariat pretended that “the two leaders said they were visiting Latvia for personal reasons and they did not disclose the details and purpose of their visit.” But finally, the Nepali parliamentarian “regretted” their participation and declared that they inadvertently attended the conference because of misinformation and it was a “mistake.”
China scored one more goal; but for how long the love story can continue is difficult to say. Buddha had said “everything is impermanent” …even China’s great “loan” friendship?
(The writer is an expert on India-China relations)