First Nepal-China Joint Military Drill
Even before Chinese Defense Ministry Spokesperson Yang Yujun confirmed on December 29 that Nepal and China would hold the first joint military drill in February, there were reports in different Indian and other foreign media outlets that India was concerned over the drill.
The Times of India on its December 27 issue reported that India was at unease with the report about the joint military drill and added 'Indian officials said China's military links with Nepal do not really help India.' In its news report on the joint military exercise on December 29, Reuters termed the drill as 'a move that could unnerve neighboring India.' These two reports serve as examples of how some Indian and international news media as well as the Indian officials have perceived the proposed first ever military drill between Nepalese and Chinese armies.
Given the fact that Nepalese army has been holding such drills with the Indian army for over a decade and with the US army for many years, the way the Nepal-China military drill is perceived in a negative light is biased and unwelcome. Moreover, it is intriguing how Indian officials could be at unease with this given the fact that even Chinese and Indian armies have had joint drills, Hand in Hand military drill, since nearly a decade and Nepal never felt or expressed any unease.
Nepal-China relations are historic from cultural or economic point of view, dating back to hundreds of years, and the relations had started even before these two countries came to be what they are today as nations. There were both people-to-people as well as state-to-state relations. If we talk about recent history, China has always been a generous and supportive neighbor to Nepal, and the friendly relations have been progressing steadily and smoothly. There have not been any ups and downs as such. Because of this, Nepalese do not harbor any apprehension with regard to China but instead think of the northern neighbor as a friend ready to help in time of difficulties. This was proved in times of the devastating earthquake in April 2015 and the subsequent Indian blockade.
A few kiloliters of fossil fuels provided by China as grant during the fuel crisis in Nepal were just symbolic. But when you are dying of thirst, even a drop of water matters even if the drop may not help you live any longer! Chinese development assistance to Nepal has been of great significance. The agreements including the deal on trade and transit route signed last year are the latest milestones while the joint military drill will add a new dimension to the relations existing between the two neighbors.
Relations between Nepal and India are said to be special. That is not wrong, but this special relation gets cited by the Indian media and officials whenever they have to achieve some interest of their own. Special relation should also be beneficial to Nepal. Relations cannot be special simply because some Nepalese serve in the Indian army, Nepal and India have open borders and people of one country can move to the other without visa and many Nepalese work in India. There are many other things which make Nepal's relations with its southern neighbor special. But there are grievances on the Nepalese side the way this special relation is twisted by the Indian side time and again. The special relation is raised for keeping Nepal in the sphere of Indian influence.
From cultural, political or economic vintage, Nepal-India relations are unique but this uniqueness gets questioned time and again because of big brotherly attitude of the Indian rulers and bureaucracy. India has always been generous and helpful but also very harsh in different times. Nepalese leaders have all along been complaining for interferences in internal political affairs. Overt and eleventh-hour pressure to suspend promulgation of the new constitution in September 2015 and the subsequent blockade in indirect support to the Madhesi movement are the latest examples.
In his opinion article in the Global Times on December 26, Xu Liping, a senior fellow of the National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, dwells on the Indian worry. He writes, "India's concern for Sino-Nepalese cooperation is largely due to its worry about China's influence in Nepal, which boasts of a very important geographical position. China and Nepal share a border - the Himalayas. India believes that if China were to break through the Himalayas and have presence in Nepal, it could exert direct influence on the South Asian subcontinent. This will pose a huge threat to India and its South Asian strategy.
However, the bilateral cooperation between China and Nepal is for protecting national interests and is not directed against any third party. Indian officials, media and academic circles should not read too much into the two countries' security cooperation. Owing to historic reasons, India and Nepal are highly interdependent in economic, cultural, security and political issue. It cannot be ignored that India's influences on Nepal is profound. However, it is neither realistic nor possible for India to always regard Nepal as its backyard and put pressure on Sino-Nepalese cooperation." And Xu is very correct in this analysis.
Political turmoil is still going on in Nepal as parties are yet to reach to a consensus on addressing the grievances with regard to the new constitution as raised by the Madhesi and other ethnic and regional groups. Three levels of elections are to be held within a year, and at this time Nepal needs only helpful, supportive role of the neighbours. It is not appropriate for anyone to test to what extent Nepalese leaders are for them, it is time to encourage them to settle domestic affairs and take the country to a smooth political track as envisioned by the constitution.
Once the elections are held, federalism institutionalised and political transition is over, a politically good time is expected in Nepal. Therefore, for the time being, it is expected that Indian leaders stay away from pressing Nepalese leaders to heed to Madhesi demands and that the Chinese leaders do not raise to what extent Nepalese leaders are supportive of the OBOR initiative. Nepalese leaders have made it clear that they are for the OBOR and that they are for addressing the Madhesi grievances as well.