PM’s Vietnam, Cambodia Tour
Dr. Narad Bharadwaj
The ongoing visit of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to Vietnam and Cambodia is indicative of expanding horizon of Nepal’s diplomatic outreach and cooperative engagement with emerging economic powers of Asia. Apart from enhancing Nepal’s diplomatic presence in Asia’s geo-political theatre, this visit is likely to serve as an opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge on how war devastated and conflict-ridden countries can spring back to share stage with econom-ic powers.
Vietnam and Cambodia present a text-book example for the study of the trajectory of devasta-tion and resurgence of nations. These are the countries which fought a prolonged war with the United States lasting from 1962 to 1975. Eventually, they were able to defeat the USA restoring their sovereignty and independence, thus setting precedence that even small and weak countries can defeat a global power if they can unite the people to stand for a just cause.
The struggle of the Vietnamese and Cambodian people carries significance for us because the Nepali people were also fighting to break free from clutches of feudal monarchy when they were fighting tooth and nail for national independence. The indomitable spirit of the Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian people served as an inspiration and motivation for the Nepali people to make sacrifice for the cause of economic, social and political transformation of the Nepali state.
Forty-five years ago, Vietnam was a war-ravaged country struggling for survival from the trau-matic post-war economic collapse with a challenge to reorganise the chaotic infrastructures in all the sectors of national economy. Vietnam tried to implement planned economic model following the end of the war. But it hardly helped it to put its economy on the fast track of growth. Latter, it started to achieve success after giving priority to free market economy.
The Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA) it signed with USA in 2000 is considered as a major milestone in the development of its economy. Today it is being hailed as one of the fastest growing economy of Asia.
Vietnam’s GDP growth was 6.8 per cent in 2018 and its per capita GDP is $ 2,725. Vietnam is rapidly developing as a modern economy with strong base of manufacturing and agricultural industries. Vietnam presents a uniquely successful example of maintaining a harmonious development of agriculture, manufacturing industries and tourism. From a backward, poverty stricken country, it has risen in rank to claim global status as an emergent global economic power.
In a short period of economic reform it has been able to establish itself as a major exporter of agricultural exporting countries in addition to cutting a niche for itself in the community of industrial countries leading in the production of exportable commodities.
Nepal has a lot of things to learn from Vietnam, especially in the field of agricultural modernisation, water resource management, tourism and attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). These are the areas where Vietnam has presented itself as a showcase of unprecedented success.
There are a number of other areas of development in Vietnam which could be relevant for Nepal’s purpose. One of them is river navigation. Vietnam has 6,000 kilometres of inland waterways with a number of infrastructures designed to cater to the need of river transportation. Nepal is trying to develop and make use of cross-border and inland waterways. Vietnam and Cambodia may offer rich and pertinent experience and technological knowhow on the potentials and challenges that may crop up in the process of putting river transport infrastructure in place.
Similarly, the second destination of Prime Minister Oli’s visit, Cambodia, also presents many insightful lessons on achieving economic growth through prudent mobilisation of national re-sources, attracting FDI and collaborating with China within the framework of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Under BRI project, Cambodia has implemented a high speed railway project linking it with China. This has unleashed a multiple opportunities for previously a conflict ridden and poverty stricken country of Indochina changing itself into a bustling economy. Cambodia presents deep lessons on post conflict healing, ways of dealing with transitional justice, reconciling human rights issues and finding an independent path of national development.
Tourism is one of the areas where Cambodia has made impressive progress. Cultural heritage and religious tourism are some of the distinct areas in which only a few countries can compete with Cambodia. It has been able to change famous Angkor Wat temple into a world class tourist destination. Cambodia has been making unprecedented progress in developing eco-tourism turning its abundant rivers, lake waterways and other eco-tourism spots into attractive tourist destinations.
China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand are countries enriched and affected by the fluctuating climatic conditions along the Mekong River basin. Together, these countries have developed trans-boundary water resource management system to ensure justifiable sharing of water resources and to effectively fight against drought and floods.
China has developed a cascade reservoir system which has immensely benefitted the Indochinese lower riperian countries putting them at as vantage point to make use of water resources in times of drought and prevent loss of life and property in times of inundation through a controlled release of water. The knowledge and experience could be of direct utility for Nepal which is facing the onslaught of water induced disasters every year.
Cambodia and Vietnam are neighbours with sweet-bitter experience in their relation. They present an example of how bitter history can be buried to move forward for a productive cooperation. Though they both share the same geopolitical space and similar political and economic challenges, Vietnam has closer economic collaboration with USA and India while Cambodia and Laos have accepted development model under China’s BRI projects.
After attaining political stability, Nepal is also on the path of economic prosperity. Like Vietnam and Cambodia, Nepal has been achieving high economic growth of above 6.6 per cent. However, unlike the Indochinese countries, whose growth is based on tourism, domestic productions and their export, Nepal’s growth is mainly sustained by remittances.
In the present context, Nepal has a lot of things to learn from the experiences of the peoples who are rising from their own ashes like a proverbial phoenix after leaving behind a history of the horrors of war, disastrous calamities, horrendous internal conflicts and international stigmatisation.
Apart from sharing many similarities, Nepal, Vietnam and Cambodia are being held together by a common strand of Buddhist philosophy. Nepal is the place of origin of Buddhism and the above mentioned two societies have embraced Confucianism and Buddhism as spiritual sustenance to nourish their civilisation.
If Nepal’s visionary Prime Minister Oli succeeds in familiarising Buddhist cultural monuments of Nepal as a destination for heritage tourism and is able to attract FDI for developing export-based industries in the country, this visit may succeed in cutting a yet another notch in the field of high diplomacy.
(Dr. Bharadwaj is a freelance writer and holds PhD degree in ethno-history. He writes on history, foreign relations, and contemporary national and international politics)