By Gopal Khanal (6 August 2020) – Barring a few cases of minor irritants, Nepal and China have been enjoying good neighbourly relations based on mutual respect and benefit since the establishment of diplomatic relations on August 1, 1955. Recollecting the sixty five years of formal relations, both the countries have respected the spirit of real friendship and mutual support even at crucial stage – be it the hardest time of economic recession and the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
It is not wise to draw the conclusion about the nature of friendship between the two nations by just appraising the years of formal relationship. Their bilateral ties go back to early centuries. The multi-faceted relationship have evolved since the days of Nepali scholar Buddhabhadra (early 5th century), Princess Bhrikuti (first half of the 7th century) and Arniko (second half of the 13th century) and early visits of Chinese Monk like Fa Xian (Jin Dynasty) and Xuan Zang (Tang Dynasty), among others.
From early to modern times, from informal to formal, the relationships have been marked by understanding and respect for each other’s sensitivities. One commitment that pragmatically led the bilateral relations towards the newer height is their unwavering commitment to and unbroken faith in the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence.
Nepal is firmly committed to One-China policy and is committed not to allow its soil to be used against China. China has also assured Nepal that it will not interfere in the domestic affairs of Nepal and is committed to protect Nepal’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and national independence. The two countries share 1,414 kilometers of trouble-free border in the Himalayan range, which is now not an obstruction but an opportunity to be tapped.
China has pursued proactive policy in its neighborhood, which it prefers to say peripheral diplomacy. It seems China wants to reshape her neighbourhood relations breaking the unilaterally defined traditional understanding of dynamics of power relationship. India has been claiming Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and other South Asian nations except arch-rival Pakistan as her ”zone of influence”, which had not been practically denied by China though in principle it had been questioned.
China has not formally claimed or will claim that it has strategically moved towards close and small neighbours undercutting India’s influence on her backyard in South Asia. But the country, which has been charting relatively peaceful diplomacy, now seems to have taken the proactive diplomacy with push of the Xi Jinping thought of ”Shared Development and Shared Destiny.”
If Nepal is put at the trial, China’s assured move of cordiality can be gauged. China is the largest source of Foreign Direct Investment in Nepal. China has topped in FDI pledges with the growing investment in hydropower, cement, herbal medicine and tourism. Similarly, China is the second largest source of foreign tourists to Nepal.
There has been tangible progress in connectivity under the flagship plan of Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network. Nepal and China agreed to open three corridors Koshi, Gandaki and Karnali and are ready to operate the two entry points at Rasuwagdhi and Tatopani for bilateral trade. Nepal has direct air link with Lhasa, Chengdu, Kunming, Guangzhou and Hong Kong SAR of China.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and President Xi Jinping had made historic contribution to elevating the bilateral relations to newer heights. First was the historic Transport Transit Agreement (TTA) signed during PM Oli visit to China in 2016. Oli had led coalition government which was confronting adverse domestic and external situation. Oli maintained stance against India’s blockade and sought the support of China, resulting in the signing of a string of landmark agreements between the two nations..
Second, Prime Minister Oli and President Xi are committed to fully implementing the TTA. For this to happen, the protocols were signed during the visit of President Bidya Devi Bhandari to China in March 2019. Seven ports were identified to be used by Nepal for bilateral and third country trade. Third, the resumption of the highest level visit. Prime Minister Oli was unable to welcome Chinese President to Nepal during his first premiership as he was forced to step down before completing his mission. Oli succeeded to add new brick to Nepal-China relations when President Xi visited Nepal in October 2019 after a gap of 23 years.
Fourth, Nepal and China have shifted their relation to the level of strategic partnership. It was announced during the visit of Xi to Nepal. President Xi said China was always ready to support Nepal to achieve her national goal of ‘‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali”. Fifth, Nepal became a land-linked nation from land-locked one. With Nepal’s access to sea and dry ports in China, Nepal became land-linked nation. Nepal’s long aspiration to have access to the international waters was realised during President Xi’s Nepal visit.
These are the most significant events in the annals of Nepal-China relations. If China breaks her silence on the 2015 India-China agreement on Lipulek pass and backtracks from it, Nepali people will further appreciate its northern neighbour.
Long Live Nepal-China Friendship.
This article first appeared in The Rising Nepal.