-Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
Like USA and Russia that have assumed Asia pivot to influence the continent, China also has its own Asia pivot, but it also has South Asia pivot too trying to woo the nations to come under its new Silk route program nicknamed the ‘One Belt, One Road (OBOR)’ initiative.
China’s South Asia pivot is yielding fruits as it has been able to rope in a maximum of the region: Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal are now the satellite countries of Beijing, leaving minimal scope for India to manipulate or maneuver. Only one country that stays behind the military prowess of India is Bhutan which maintains economic relations with New Delhi as most of the foodstuff and other manufactured goods is has come from India. Afghanistan has plenty of compulsions not to annoy economic power India that liberally releases funs for Kabul and also to bowl harmless balls to Indian military batboys for 100s and 50s. It is under US pressure that India is trying to help Afghanistan in redeveloping the Islamic nation of brave Afghans. , destabilized by the USA and NATO terror organization. . .
Nepal is one of the nations that benefits maximum from extra Chinese enthusiasm for recapturing the Old Silk Road for making itself the real superpower and for this reason Katmandu is willing to annoy New Delhi, though it takes care not to strain the relations with India.
China and Nepal have agreed to start technical works to build a cross-border railway link via Tibet to boost connectivity. This was decided during the recent visit of Nepalese Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara to Beijing. “Both sides have agreed to move forward technical works relating to the construction of Nepal-China cross-border railway line.
China has also developed close relations with Sri Lanka during the regime of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa whose nearly decade-long tenure was ended by Sirisena in 2015. Also, the USD 1.5 billion Chinese-funded Colombo Port City project had sparked off security concerns in India.
China already has strong ties with Pakistan, and the two countries are working closely on developing the USD 46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
The bilateral relations between Nepal and China has been friendly and is defined by the ‘Sino-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship’ signed on April 28, 1960, by the two countries. The government of Nepal, though initially unenthusiastic about its ties with the People’s Republic of China, has been of late making efforts to increase trade and connectivity with China while also simultaneously trying to decrease its reliance on India.
The Araniko Highway that connects Kathmandu to Kodari and onwards to Tibet did not encourage dreams of multi-laned container traffic flowing down even before the 2015 earthquake. Post the quake, China closed the route after massive landslides in Tibet, leaving only one road that connects Kathmandu to Tibet – the Rasuwagadhi highway, built on an old trade route that connected Nepal to Tibet via the Kerung pass. It was through this highway – still under construction in most sections in Nepal, and perhaps the most affected highway during the quake – that petroleum arrived in Kathmandu in 2015 during the infamous Indian blockade. It is also this highway that will connect Nepal to the much-flaunted Chinese Belt Road Initiative (BRI), with the Chinese interested in building Kathmandu itself.
Relations between Nepal and China got a boost when both countries solved all border disputes with China–Nepal border by signing the Sino-Nepal boundary agreement on March 21, 1960. The government of both Nepal and China ratified the border agreement treaty on October 5, 1961. From 1975 onward, Nepal has maintained a policy of balancing the competing influence of China and Nepal’s southern neighbor India, the only two neighbors of the Himalayan country after the annexation of the Kingdom of Sikkim by India in 1975. Since 1975, Sino-Nepal relations have been close and grown significantly with China being the largest source of FDI, while India remains one of the major sources of remittance to Nepal. As per the estimate of Nepalese government, there are around 2-3 million Nepalese migrant workers in India while the number of Nepalis in China is minuscule (3,500 in Mainland and 15,950 in Hong Kong) as of 2017.
In the late 1970s after the annexation of the Kingdom of Sikkim by India, King Birendra of Nepal proposed Nepal as a “zone of peace” between India and China and in the 1980s, Nepal began importing Chinese weaponry. When the United States, United Kingdom, and India refused to supply arms to the regime of King Gyanendra of Nepal, who had assumed direct rule to suppress the Maoist insurgency during the Nepalese civil war (1996–2006), China responded by dispatching arms to Nepal, in spite of the ideological affinity of the Maoists with China.
After the peace process and national elections in Nepal in 2008, the new Maoist-led government announced its intentions to scrap Nepal’s 1950 treaty with India, indicating a stronger move towards closer ties with China. In 2007-08, China began construction of a 770-kilometre railway connecting the Tibetan capital of Lhasa with the Nepalese border town of Khasa, connecting Nepal to China’s wider national railway network In a meeting between Chinese and Nepalese officials on 25 April 2008, the Chinese delegation announced the intention to extend the Qingzang railway to Zhangmu (Nepali: Khasa) on the Nepalese border. Nepal had requested that the railway is extended to enable trade and tourism between the two nations. On the occasion of the Nepali premier’s visit to China, it was reported that construction would be completed by 2020. The section Lhasa-Shigatse opened in August 2014.
China last year agreed to consider building a railway into Nepal and to start a feasibility study for a free trade agreement with landlocked Nepal, which has been trying to lessen its dependence on its other big neighbor India.
Belt and Road
Nepal also signed up to President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative which is opposed by India as it passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Of late, India takes a special interest in parts of Jammu Kashmir being controlled by Pakistan while does not want anyone to mention about its own occupied and heavily militarized and hence highly terrorized parts of Jammu Kashmir. As an ambitious South Asian power, India is also engaged with both USA and Israel to control the world jointly; It has of late developed double speaks as well.
During the high-level talks in Beijing, Mahara had requested China to forward the work relating to the preparation of a Detailed Project Report for the construction of inter-country railway line giving it a high priority, it said. However, China’s state-run People’s Daily has claimed that during Mahara’s visit to China early this month a deal has been struck to establish the rail link. It said the rail link includes two lines: one connecting three of Nepal’s largest cities and two between China and Nepal.
The daily, however, did not identify the Nepalese cities. The Sino-Nepali railway, which passes through the Chinese border town of Zhangmu and connects with routes in Nepal, will be the first railway by which China enters South Asia, said Zhao Gancheng, director of the Centre for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies. “Although the railway connection between China and Nepal is intended to boost regional development and not for military purposes, the move will still probably irritate India,” he was quoted as saying by the daily – the ruling communist party’s official mouthpiece.
Prime Minister Prachanda today said Nepal was keen to be involved in the One Belt One Road project proposed by China and reiterated Nepal’s commitment to the One China policy during a meeting with Chinese Defence Minister here. General Chang Wanquan, who leads the 2.3-million-strong Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), the world’s largest, arrived here today with a 19-member delegation on a three-day goodwill visit at the invitation of Defence Minister Balkrishna Khand. Chang, the first Chinese Defence Minister to visit Nepal in 16 years, discussed with Prachanda bilateral military cooperation and the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, an ambitious project viewed with suspicion by India.
Prachanda said Nepal was keen to be involved in the OBOR project, a pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping. He also reiterated Nepal’s commitment to the One China policy and said it would not tolerate any activity against Tibet and Taiwan. Prachanda also expressed his happiness over the cooperation that armies of Nepal and China have developed of late, the Prime Ministers Secretariat said in a statement after the meeting.
India has some concerns over the OBOR, which includes a maze of projects connecting China with Euro-Asia and is floated by Beijing as a connectivity and economic project. Thanking China for its support to Nepal’s economic development, Prachanda wished a complete success of Chang’s visit.
Prachanda is the first Chinese Defence Minister to visit Nepal after a gap of 16 years, which is a matter of pleasure for us,” said a senior official at the Defence Ministry. The visit comes ahead of the Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawats four-day official visit to Nepal from March 28.
The Chinese defense ministers visit coincides with the first joint military exercise between the Nepal Army and the PLA scheduled later this year. Chang will receive a briefing on the joint exercise and also visit Nepal Army’s Kathmandu Valley unit. He called on President Bidya Devi Bhandari tomorrow and meet his Nepalese counterpart Balkrishna Khand and Nepal Army chief Rajendra Chhetri.
Chang and Nepalese officials discussed issues relating to bilateral military cooperation and planned joint military exercise, according to officials.
The delegation accompanying Chang discussed the ideas floated last year by then Nepalese prime minister KP Sharma Oli during his visit to China. A possible support to Nepal Army from China was hinted at.
Prachanda visited China to take part in the Boao conference which is committed to promoting regional economic integration and bringing Asian countries closer to their development goals. He said that the main objective of his visit to China would be to build confidence though there is no plan to sign any new agreement. Prachanda said he would hold high-level talks with Chinese officials during the visit, which will be instrumental in strengthening bilateral relations. He will also meet Xi.
Hours before flying to China, Prachanda held discussions about agenda of the visit with former prime ministers, former foreign ministers and foreign policy experts at his official residence.
With Nepal willingly joining the BRI, commentators in both Nepal and India have argued that the move signals Kathmandu’s willingness to move away from the Indian ‘sphere of influence’. With India and China now locked in a stand-off in Doklam, commentators are also asking what this means for smaller nations like Bhutan and Nepal to be in the midst of two clashing giants.
Sino-Nepalese military ties are growing stronger of late. Nepal and China today began their first-ever joint military exercise with a special focus on combating terror, amidst Beijing’s increasing forays into South Asia causing concern in India. The 10-day-long military drill “Sagarmatha Friendship 2017” that will last until April 25 is being organized by the two countries as part of their preparedness against terrorism that has posed as a serious security threat globally, the Nepal Army said. Sagarmatha is the Nepali name of Mt Everest, the world’s highest peak.
The Chinese Peoples Liberation Army’s squad arrived in the capital to participate in the military exercise that will focus on counter-terrorism and disaster response. The joint training with China marks Nepal Army’s extension of military diplomacy. The Nepal Army has long been conducting joint military drills with Indian and American Army. “A small Chinese troop will be participating in the first ever drill with an equal number of Nepali Army personnel,” said military spokesman Jhankar Bahadur Kadayat. He did not mention the strength of the participating troops. The exercise will take place at the Army’s Maharajgunj-based Training School, where Yuddha Bhairab, Mahabir, and Bhairabnath Battalions are located.
The Nepali Army has said the joint military exercise with China is a step towards preparations against the possible threat of terrorism.
It maintains that the drill is a part of its regular bilateral and multilateral military exercises aimed at sharing experiences, skills and professional knowledge which it has regularly been doing with the nations that Nepal shares diplomatic ties.
Nepal had proposed joint military exercises during Chinese Defence Minister General Chang Wanquans official visit to Nepal on March 24. Experts believe that the joint military exercise could make India uneasy as China attempts to exert influence in the region. Nepal, a landlocked country, is dependent on India for its imports.
Nepal has just come out of its two greatest crises namely natural crisis in the form of earthquake & constitutional crisis. Both the events have shaken the roots of Himalayan country. However, two events had contrastingly affected the India-Nepal relations. Cooperation & timely support during the earthquake proved India’s worth for Nepal & its unique geostrategic position. However, forming of new constitution & its implementation created a tense scenario between the two nations & overshadowed the Indian rescue efforts during an earthquake.
In both the events China took advantage to deepen its ties with Nepal & put India on the strategically disadvantageous position, whereas, Nepal also seems to play the China card with India on India’s suggestions for the demands of Terai people and constitutional reforms, i.e., for more representation of Terai people in parliament, provincial territory demarcations and issues related to citizenship rights.
In September 1961, King Mahendra had embarked on a 17-day state visit to China, where he was feted as an ‘esteemed friend of the Chinese people.’ Mahendra had carried out his royal takeover the year before, and Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru was not happy with this new development.
Despite talks between Nehru and Mahendra, the Delhi-Kathmandu relationship continued to deteriorate under the face of cross-border attacks by the Nepali Congress rebels, and in September 1962, India imposed an “unofficial and undeclared economic blockade on Nepal” – but even as Mahendra began to get frantic and Kathmandu’s response turned ‘hysterical’ to the blockade, the Sino-Indian war began on October 20 that year.
China proposed the establishment of an economic corridor among the three countries to promote trilateral cooperation and common prosperity. Nepal can become a stage for mutually beneficial cooperation between China and India, rather than an arena for competition.
India poses to be a Big Brother in the region and refuses to make the region tension free by quickly resolving the Kashmir issue by surrendering them their sovereignty that would eventually herald a new peaceful and genuinely surrounding in the region. India needs to work to resolve the issues through diplomacy and cooperation.
Indian blockade caused economic problems and social tensions problems as well as irritation in Nepal. Nepal had witnessed a shortage in essential supplies from India during the 2015 Madhesi blockade. China at that time had extended its help to Nepal to ease the situation.
India is treating South Asia and the Indian Ocean as its backyard with a hard-line manner, and the way the Indian Pm Modi went around the region soon after his rise to power vindicates that impression.
Now it is necessary to analyze the current situation whether growing proximity of China and Nepal is a real threat for India or it’s just an overemphasized perception and if it’s a new reality in triangular relations how India is going to be affected by it.
Nepalese nationalists in Nepal lauded the king for taking the country away from the Indian dependence. One can conclusively argue it was the 2015 blockade that turned Kathmandu towards Beijing.
China’s deepening economic ties in South Asia – set to be further strengthened through the “One Belt, One Road” initiative – would likely be followed by closer security ties as well, despite Delhi’s unease.
China hopes India can understand the pursuit of China and regional countries for common development, and be part of it. However, New Delhi doesn’t share this thinking, instead of seeking to balance China and overtake it. If such tendencies in India continue, China may even fight back, because it cannot digest if its core interests are violated. “This is not what we hope for, but the ball is in India’s court,” so reads a Chinese the commentary.
Beijing warns India of action if its interests are threatened by New Delhi’s actions. China’s Defence Minister and People’s Liberation Army General Chang Wanquan made a rare visit to Sri Lanka and Nepal, and Chinese state media warned India that Beijing would “fight back” if Delhi interferes into China’s relations with South Asian countries.