By Liu Zongyi–
Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli just concluded a week-long visit to China. During his stay, Oli and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang signed agreements of cooperation covering the areas of transportation, cross-border trade, energy and finance and charted a blueprint for China-Nepal cooperation in the next few years.
Some foreign media outlets deem Oli’s visit a turnaround in Nepal’s attitude toward India. As early as in the end of 2015 when India and Nepal were wrestling over the Indian blockade on Nepal’s border economy, rumors had spread that Oli would, breaking away from conventions, visit China prior to India. This was speculated by Indian media as a signal of “possibly an irreversible shift away from India.”
Western media especially the US and Japanese media also took the chance, claiming that China’s earthquake disaster relief efforts in Nepal and the supply of fuel to Nepal were aimed at expanding geopolitical influence. The assistance Beijing offered to Kathmandu is an embodiment of China’s periphery diplomacy strategy of “building friendship and partnership with neighboring countries.” China wasn’t taking advantage of the tensions between India and Nepal.
Oli finally paid his maiden overseas visit as prime minister to India, the episode of which indicates the abnormality of the India-Nepal relationship and the fragility of the triangular relationship among Nepal, India and China.
Some held that Oli was playing the China card to bargain for more benefits with India. However, Nepal playing the China card doesn’t conform to China’s interests.
China hopes Nepal can serve as a bridge between China and India, rather than a stage of competition. The Nepalese government has been fully aware of this. Before Oli kicked off his visit to China, Kathmandu reiterated that it sticks to a policy of not choosing a side between Beijing and New Delhi, and it wants to bridge the two.
However, India’s consent is a prerequisite for Nepal to assume the role of a bridge. Due to geographic, political, economic, historical, religious and cultural factors, India exerts a greater influence on Nepal than China. Kathmandu cannot get rid of its economic dependence on India quickly.
Indian strategists, deeming India as a dominant player of South Asia, are accustomed to viewing India’s relations with neighboring countries in a geopolitical context, and taking countries including Nepal and Bhutan within its sphere of influence. Such a view has been strengthened since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office. It will be only an illusion that Nepal serves as a bridge between China and India if Indian strategists keep their zero-sum mentality unchanged in interpreting China-Nepal relations.
I recently received a leading scholar from a renowned Indian think tank. He suddenly burst into a fit of temper when a plan of building railways between China and Nepal was mentioned by a Chinese scholar during the talks. He questioned the purpose of constructing the railways.
Besides, for Nepal to become a bridge between India and China, varied Nepalese political parties should be united and reach a consensus.
Indian influence has deeply penetrated into Nepal’s political circle. Although the Nepalese public is annoyed by India’s economic blockade of their country, it’s difficult to draw them together to change the status quo due to division among ethnic groups.
Moreover, ethnic groups of Indian origin in Nepal’s southern region are unlikely to abandon their special relationship with India.
Oli’s decision to visit India first indicates Nepal is still wary of India’s influence over its domestic politics and foreign relations. China’s Nepal policy could take the interests of Nepalese ethnic groups of Indian origin into account, but China won’t meddle in Nepal’s domestic political disputes.
China understands Nepal’s predicament. It hopes to strengthen cooperation with both India and Nepal at the same time. China wants to promote the “Belt and Road” initiative in South Asia and build a community of common destiny with both countries. In the process, India should show a broad mind as a global power.
The author is a senior fellow of Shanghai Institutes for International Studies and a visiting fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. [email protected]. Source:Global Times Published: 2016-3-27 23:13:01