By GP Acharya (KATHMANDU, 17 October 2019) – The emotional, social, cultural and psychological attachments in Nepal-China relations since the ancient time have been intrinsically progressed into diplomatic and political cohesiveness in the recent time. The inculturation of Buddhism in China in the past and indoctrination of Xi’s Thought in Nepal in the present have reflected the depth of the cultural to political connection in Nepal-China relations.
Following the diplomatic and political advancement in bilateral relations, President Xi visited Nepal nearly after a quarter century, since President Jiang Zamin last visited Nepal in 1996. Reportedly, Xi’s visit is expected to bring the two nations closer for the comprehensive deepening of reform and community future of mankind. Months prior to the expected visit, high level interaction between top leaders of both NCP and CPC was held in Kathmandu focusing on Xi’s Thought and comprehensive enforcement of party discipline and joint bid, while the ideologies adopted by both the ruling parties believe in peaceful politics and developments.
Accordingly, China, under Xi Thought- “shared vision and community of common destiny”, is determined for the broader national well-being following the overall well-being of its nationals. China has set specific vision and is focused on attempting its security with an aim of establishing a disciplined nation. Xi has set stronger vision of shared economic development and partnership focusing on peace, economic prosperity and universal security in a cohesive approach by strengthening state-to-state relations under the prospects of BRI of which Nepal is already a signatory member nation.
(Un)surprisingly, some political pundits are labeling NCP-CPC relation as Nepal-India relation during 1950s where Kathmandu was virtually controlled by Delhi. Is Beijing going to control Kathmandu now? Speculation remains largely in opposition parties. Meanwhile, others blame whether China is exporting ideology while America is promoting democracy and India is inducing religious hegemony in Nepal in the name of developments and cooperation? However, China, India, and the US are equally involved in Nepal’s economic development and eager to maintain good relations with Nepal hoping to be actively engaged in Kathmandu, perhaps to balance their respective interests with one over another. Meanwhile, how Nepal maintains relations with Beijing is a conspiracy concern of Delhi and Washington, today. Yet, it’s Nepal’s sovereign decision that has to sharply focus on its national interest and preserve the legacy of Nepalese values by maintaining balanced relations with all the friends through the paragon of diplomacy under constructive neutrality.
Reflections on Nepal-China Relations
Besides the deep cultural connection, Nepal had deeper trade and economic relations with China-Tibet which geared-up its momentum after a Tibetan Officer Thon Mi first visited Nepal during 580s AD. The second official visit of Tibetans was held during 630s AD after Songtson Gampo became the Tibetan ruler. Nepal-Tibet relations experienced the amalgamation of diversity and cultures where Nepal had made great contribution in preaching the tenets of Buddhism in Tibet. Bhrikuti’s effort of preaching Buddhism and Nepalese cultures in Tibet, Arniko’s arts, and Laxmi Prasad Devkota’s Munamadan, a famous epic, also reveal the intensity of cultural connection in Nepal-China relations.
The relations between the two nations have been strengthened diplomatically and politically after the establishment of People’s Republic of China (PRC). On the day of PRC declaration, Chairman Mao said, “This government is prepared to establish diplomatic relations with any foreign government which will be willing to observe principles of equality, mutual benefit and mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty”. This statement had further made Nepal secured and confident in relations with China. Accordingly, President Xi while addressing the 70th anniversary of PRC establishment reiterated the Chinese commitment and continuity of the Mao’s spirit with expanded vision of strengthening state-to-state relations.
However, due to lack of political vision and intelligence (from both Quing Dynasty and then Nepalese Royals), there remained some gap of trust in Nepal-China relations and both the nations had to lose cultural ties in the past, while both the nations had stood as sister kingdom. And, now, under Xi, the CPC has pledged to maintain sisterly relation with NCP. Meanwhile, Nepal has to learn from the history and maintain good faith in relations with China. If Nepal had not blemished its relations with China by 1792 war and had won the heart of Chinese and pursued them to support Nepal during Anglo-Nepal war (1814-16), perhaps Nepal could protect its largely lost territories and would not have to be defeated so severely. So, maintaining stronger relations with China can bring leverages for Nepal anytime in the future because of Nepal’s geo-location and corresponding geo-political situation. Nepal has had ever never witnessed sovereignty threat from China in the past. For instance, if China had ill intention towards Nepal, it would not cooperate in border issues and respect Nepal’s claim on Mt. Everest.
Equally, Nepal had supported China in its difficult junctures in the past. For instance, Nepal had contributed to Chinese mission to Magadha in 646 AD to rescue its mission members. Also, Nepal has supported China in its crucial time such as cosponsoring China as a member of the UN Security Council in 1971. Nepal’s role on the control of Khampa rebels, who were operating ant-China activities from Nepal, has remained highly commendable. Likewise, Nepal has shown its good faith, wishes, support and appreciation, and acknowledged the political change in central China and the change in Tibet in 1952.
Despite of some ups and down in Nepal-Tibet and later Nepal-China relations before 1950, Nepal-China relations started gaining momentum at the higher level after Premier Zhou Enlai visited Nepal and China officially recognized Nepal’s sovereignty in 1954. Following the bilateral cooperation, the diplomatic relation between the two nations was established in September 23, 1954 under the Premiership of Zhou, who said “China is ready and willing to establish diplomatic relations with Nepal on the basis of equality and mutual respect”. Similarly, President Li Xiannian visited Nepal in 1984 which further paved the modern path in Nepal-China relations.
Respecting the Chinese concern Nepal has officially expressed its firm commitment on One-China policy and Tibetan security. And, the emerging concern is BRI and its sustainability, whether Nepalese land could be used to inject various propaganda and transnational issues to make the BRI project vulnerable or to destabilize Tibet, Taiwan and Hongkong, China worries. So, learning from the past and realizing the future prospects of security and mutual cooperation both the nations have to take lesson and seek pragmatic measures to counter possible strategic threats in Nepal-China relations.
Nepal must realize and be perceptive that China’s appreciation on Nepal’s role in NAM and commitment on regional (and global) peace and prosperity is that China wants Nepal as a neutral country, which is still an unexpressed concern of China. China, further, wants Nepal to be an active role player in the regional and global political spectrums, so why Nepal is frequently invited in various summit such as SCO and Bao forum, while Nepal is already a founding member of AIIB and BRI signatory member nation.
Nepal-China relations gained its momentous height after India imposed economic blockade in Nepal in 2015. Nepal signing of ten agreements in various sectors during PM Oli’s visit to China in 2016 and consequently being granted access to four Chinese seaports, for trading with third country, has been a new achievement in Nepal-China strategic relations. The bilateral relations between the two neighbours gained significant height after Nepal officially signed Xi initiated BRI mega project. Further it reached to the political avenues after the US projected Nepal into its Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS). Perhaps, this projection made China suspicious whether IPS is a strategy to contain its BRI prospect?
Equal Footing Relations
Certainly, President Xi’s visit will herald a new beginning in Nepal-China relations and deepen bilateral cooperation in multifarious sectors. The way China has respected the emotional and national feelings of the people of Nepal, this spirit of Chinese perceptions towards Nepal must be continued and reciprocated through equal footing relations. Nepal expects that India, the US and other nations will explore their greater spirit and bigger generosity regarding various issues with Nepal and bring out their relations in a newer and warmer height as China has had shown its generosity and greatness.
Still, everything in bilateral relations will be determined by the reciprocity of the relations. Yet, the state-to-state relations have to be more friendly and neighborly than sisterly or brotherly by respecting each others’ core and genuine interest where Nepal is always there to cooperate a deserving friend.
Nonetheless, learning from the Chinese development and Xi Thought, Nepal has to best mobilize human capital, adopt modern technology and espouse the cohesive domestic policy to win the hearts, minds and spirits of own nationals, and extend a gesture of trust, amity and dignity with all the nations around the globe by preserving the legacy of Nepalese institution and, of course, keeping the national interest at the top.
GP Acharya is a researcher and analyst who holds an M.Sc. in Computer Science, M.Sc. in Statistics, completed M.A. in International Relations and Diplomacy, and studied MPhil in Management.