Nepal, China Enter New Era Of Cooperation
Ritu Raj Subedi
Nepal and China have been good neighbours throughout the history. This does not mean that they never experienced any hostile situation in the distant past but the occasional hiccups barely blighted their bilateral bonhomie. After becoming a communist republic in 1949, China confronted some sort of isolationism in the international diplomacy. At that time Nepal wholeheartedly helped China secure its legitimate position in the United Nations. This rare and selfless cooperation on part of Nepal can hardly be reciprocated with monetary support. During the party-less Panchayat period, Nepal-China ties remained cordial. It was a moment marked by intense Cold War rivalry between world superpowers – USA and former USSR. China found Nepal’s monarchy as a trustworthy friend in light of its enmity with India, especially following the 1962 Sino-India war. Despite being an autocratic king, Mahendra skillfully executed diplomacy with China and other world powers so as to end India’s hegemonic presence in Nepal and project its independent image on the global stage.
But, with the reinstatement of multiparty democracy, the successive Nepali Congress governments ditched the country’s independent foreign policies in favour of India although it superficially maintained the rhetoric of balanced ties with both the neighbours. The NC even forgot the bold foreign policy pursued by its founding leader BP Koirala, who handled Asia’s two political giants – Nehru and Mao – with confidence and conviction. The NC sold off industries, built with the assistance of socialist nations such as the former USSR and China, to flirt with free market economy wantonly. China had not emerged as an economic power to reckon with when it extended economic support to Nepal. As the China-aided industries were flogged to incompetent comprador class, China must have taken the hump. But it continued to support Nepal in the fields of economy, trade, administration, culture, sports, education and other areas.
Chronic political instability in Nepal has been a matter of anxiety for China. An unstable Nepal often poses a security threat to its ‘soft belly’- Tibet. Nepali state has weakened terribly in the last three decades with foreign powers indulged in various strategic maneuverings to destabilise it. Sandwiched between the regional and global powers India and China, Nepal’s geopolitical relevance continues to grow. Both China and India are competing to invest in and keep the Himalayan nation in their good book. It is unlikely that China will ‘sacrifice’ Nepal for the economic and trade benefits it may accrue from India. Nepal has recently concluded the protracted transition through the three-tier elections, and declared to vigorously engage in building a robust socialist-oriented inclusive economy. This has created an atmosphere conducive to foreign investment, a development that must have brought cheers to the second largest economy, China.
There is another encouraging development on the diplomatic front. After decades of foreign policy paralysis, Nepal has now asserted independent foreign relations with the immediate neighbours under the Left Alliance government that won a huge electoral mandate to bring stability and prosperity to the nation. India’s right-wing Hindu nationalist government under Narendra Modi tried to contain Nepal through muscular tactics in 2015 when the latter promulgated the new constitution, defying the former diktats. The illegitimate Indian embargo gave rise to unprecedented surge of patriotic sentiments among the Nepalis. They handed a humping victory to the Left Alliance, comprising the CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre, for standing up to the ruthless blockade and bullying. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has emerged as the most popular and powerful figure like Indian PM Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Oli presides over a strong government that is firmly positioned to handle foreign policies to the core interest of Nepalis. India has realised the failure of its Nepal policy and rolled out a red carpet to Oli during his recent India visit. Oli and Modi have apparently mended their fences and pledged to work together for the mutual interest of the two nations.
Like Mahendra and BP Koirala, Oli has got a historic opportunity to execute independent and nationalist foreign policies that find resonance with the vision of Nepal’s unifier Prithvi Narayan Shah as spelt out in his Dibya Updesh (divine counsel). After resetting ties with India, Oli will soon embark on a visit to China with a big expectation. China is now a global player but Nepal is its gateway to enter the large Indian market. Through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a signature initiative of President Xi, China is creating ripples in the world. It is making huge investment to enhance connectivity, trade and cooperation under the BRI which is participated in by over 60 nations from Asia, Africa and Europe.
With strong political leadership in both countries, Nepal and China are poised to enter another golden era of friendship and cooperation. To set the stage, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali met with top Chinese leaders, including Vice President Wang Qishan and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during his recent five-day trip to the northern neighbour. “We held very fruitful and comprehensive talks covering all important aspects of Nepal-China relations. I found genuine willingness on the part of the Government of China to support in our development efforts to make Nepal a prosperous country,” said Gyawali. Meanwhile, Chinese FM Wang said that China upheld the three principles of equality, mutual trust and common development as guidelines to bilateral ties with Nepal. “Now, our bilateral relationship is presented with new opportunities as China has embarked on a new journey of socialism with Chinese characteristics which spells new prospects for China-Nepal co-operation,” he said.
One-China policy, respect for its political system and sovereignty, non-interference in its internal affairs and peaceful resolution of bilateral, regional and internal conflicts are some key parameters defining China’s foreign relations with other nations. As a true friend, Nepal has resolutely abided by them. Nepal has pinned high hopes on China’s current leadership that might not see Nepal only from geopolitical aspect. Both leaders Oli and Xi have been guided by core values of communist humanitarianism. A son of a revolutionary, Xi had worked hard and endured sufferings and turmoil of Cultural Revolution before emerging as the most powerful leader of present-day China. A son of landless farmer, Oli rose to prominence through his sacrifice, struggles and unwavering political conviction. Can their communist affinity enable them to take Nepal-China relations to a new high? Will Oli be able to cash in on ideological proximity to bring prosperity to the country? Herein lies Oli’s litmus test as the towering leader of new Nepal.