By Dr. Shmabhuram Simkhada:
Let me begin by congratulating the China Study Centre for bringing out two important publications, first a very important book on Paramount Leader Deng written by his own daughter Deng Rong and the other marking the 60th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Nepal and China, in which I myself have the pleasure of contributing an article on my “Recollections and Reflections on Nepal China Friendship”. I also want to express my good wishes for the good health of the Chairman of the CSC and wish everyone a very Happy New Year 2073.
Nepal China friendship goes long back in history. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1955, Nepal has been a close witnesses and a strong supporter of the tremendous transformation of China. China too has been a strong supporter in Nepal’s development and a close observer and well wisher of the far reaching changes undergoing in Nepal.
While many perceive the phenomenal rise of China economically and militarily differently, in Nepal, as I have written in my chapter in the book “A resurgent China South Asian Perspective” edited by two well known scholars Prof. S. D Muni and Prof Tan Tai Yong and published by the famous publisher Routledge in 2012 “Nepalese see China as a friendly neighbor and a benign neighborhood power, ready to help whenever it can but keeping a hands off policy in Nepal’s internal affairs”.
Nepal-China friendship is based on our commitment to the principles of “Panchasheel”. This longstanding friendship has been nurtured by cooperation at bilateral, regional and multilateral levels and exchanges of high level visits from both sides including the visits of Prime Minister B. P. Koirala and Chao Enlai in 1960 as the earliest examples. China’s welcome of the promulgation of the Constitution in Nepal as a historic step in the 15 point joint statement issued at the end of the recently concluded weeklong visit of the Rt. Hon. PM K. P. Oli at the friendly invitation of his Chinese counterpart His Excellency Le Keqiang is the reiteration of this longstanding relation of mutual respect and support for each other’s political stability and economic development at this time of Nepal’s political transition.
The various understanding and agreements signed contain many significant projects designed to strengthen China-Nepal cooperation. Most of these agreements signed were under discussion since long and many were already in the pipeline. The Agreement on Transit Transport and decision to immediately start negotiation to develop a protocol as an integral part, cooperation on the exploration and supply of oil and gas, decision to conclude a commercial deal on the supply of petroleum products including construction of storage of facilities, agreement on Trade Mark protection, work on extension of rail links and cross border power grid could be of the greatest long term significance.
Distinguished speakers before me have dealt with many of them and a well known economist will be speaking after me. So, without going into the details of the specific agreements, MOUs and projects signed, as you have asked me to focus on the political and strategic aspect of the visit, let me do just that.
I have analyzed modern China’s Politics in terms of 3Rs Reform, Replace and Reclaim, security policy as 3Ds Defend, Deter and Deny and Foreign Policy as 3Cs Cooperation, Competition and Counteraction. Based on such analysis, the crucial question that crosses my mind, as I reflect on the current state of Nepal-China relations and ways of strengthening it, including PM Oli’s visit, is, how will China’s exercise of the full spectrum of its politics, foreign and security policy affect relations with changing Nepal. Even more significant, after meeting PM Oli President Xi Jinping is reported to have described relations with Nepal as now being “strategic”. What will be the bilateral, regional and multilateral consequences of this new state of Sino-Nepal relations? I want to pursue this on two crucial aspects, first, Nepal’s geo-strategic location between China and South Asia and the best “land-link” between the two, particularly China and India. Second, Tibet in China’s national security management, making Tibet central in Nepal-China relations.
- On Tibet, with melting snow in the Himalayas, unstoppable effects of technology, necessities of economics and blessings of politics facilitated by the ” Belt and Road” push to the South and West, access to the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China is growing. In this context of opening and access, how both sides respond to the changing demands of various national and international actors, with Nepal remaining steadfast to the longstanding one-China policy and not allowing its territory to be used in anti-China activities and China understanding Nepal’s situation in South Asia and the world will be crucial. Tibet, the central cord tying the colorful garland of Nepal China relations has many strings and knots demanding deeper – wider understanding and skillful handling to keep it intact. Proximity adds vitality but also complexity-sensitivity in interstate relations demanding high priority and careful handling.
- On the second issue, Nepal’s location between India and China is a fact of geography. China and India are both changing and Nepal too is undergoing far reaching changes. This is also a reality. Historically Nepal has been the meeting point of two great civilizations and today the central Himalayas has emerged as one of the epicenters of the impending global paradigm shift. A small nation sandwiched between two great powers has often been looked as “revenge of geography”. Translating Revenge into Reward of geographywill depend on the political skill and diplomatic ability to manage relations with the emerging and current global superpowers cooperating and competing at the same time. In this context, will Rising China and Shining India go the way of other great powers as they march forward to attain the status anticipated of them in the future? And if they do how are relations between them likely to affect Nepal?
- If there is a trace of concern, it has to do with stereotypes of history where the rise or decline of great powers are often associated with wars and conflicts rather than a peaceful transformation as China and India have managed so far. This anxiety is exacerbated by the political and diplomatic leadership deficitin managing Nepal’s ongoing internal political transition making it so traumatic for the people and the lack of understanding of the crucial contours of Nepal’s physical locale, the perceptional divergence, out in the open most recently, in managing Indo-Nepal relations, reinforced by the environment in South Asia and its surroundings on both East and West. And finally how will major external actors, notably the contemporary world’s super power respond to any new developments in the region?
- With this in mind as part of my lecture when I was involved in research as a Visiting Fellow at the well known Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva from 2004 to 7 and also teaching a course on the New Asian Century at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and IR, I formulated a question “If the Europeans….British, French, Germans, Italians, Austrians..with their long history of wars and conflicts can transform themselves by connecting and interconnecting through networks of tunnels underneath the ocean and across the Alps, aircrafts in the sky and remodel their statecrafts through vertical and horizontal evolution of their institutions, why can’t the great trans-Himalayan civilizations that dominated the early world start thinking about combining their traditional wisdom and modern knowledge for a new stage of China-South Asia relations?” It was then that I also conceptualized the idea of a “Trans Himalayan Institute of Higher Learning” bringing scholarship and experience from both sides of the Himalayas to create a new convergence of ideas and ideologiesfor peaceful and tolerant, democratic and progressive political, economic and security thinking eliminating the inevitability of war, conflict and violence emanating from political extremism and religious fundamentalism that inflicts South Asia so much today and are showing signs of problems in parts of China. All this are published in the book on China I mentioned earlier.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude with this thought. With such a huge population, one of the most ancient and greatest civilizations of the world but also marked by a painful phase of internal political strife and external subjugation and a relatively less friendly geography than other more naturally endowed major powers, why and how have the political leadership of the People’s Republic of China managed to achieve the unprecedented economic growth, social development and national prosperity any large country has experienced in modern times enabling their great nation to reclaim its rightful place in the global high table?
This has baffled the minds of many and remains one of the major topics of policy debate and academic discourse in the global powerhouses of ideas. This has been one of the most fascinating issues to me too as a student and teacher of IR and a professional involved in FP Analysis and work in diplomacy. As I continue to keenly observe the unquestionable Rise of China, despite so many challenges, and closely witness and admire its unprecedented transformation for almost four decades, it is only now that I am beginning to comprehend this phenomenon a little.
The unparalleled Rise of modern China and how this has been made possible is best understood, in my view, by closely studying the vision and actions of Chinese leaders from Chairman Mao, Paramount Leader Deng, championed today in the “Chinese Dream” (zhongguo Meng – rf]ªsf] dª) by President Xi Jinping. Introducing the idea Xi said “To realize the Chinese road, we must spread the Chinese spirit, which combines the spirit of the nation with patriotism as the core and the spirit of the time with reform and innovation at the core”. Explaining the idea further President Xi, who is also the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), reiterated the ideology of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” with the thinking that “development is of overriding importance”. While all of these are very important, the most significant aspect of the Chinese Dream and strategy for its realization, in my view, is the call for unity of its people “as an invincible force” with “wisdom and power” obviously as the operating principles for the leadership and “reform and innovation” as the directive guidelines to the official machinery of both the party and the government. With this vision Chinese leaders demonstrate their wisdom and determination in realizing the Chinese Dream of “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” with the ultimate goal of “better life for the people”.
Understanding this has been the biggest challenge to me personally and this is also the most crucial part of the reflection we must engage in as we meet here to discuss the significance of PM Oli’s recent visit to China. Knowing how they conduct their politics and FP, the Chinese side must have taken a long term view in calling relations with Nepal “strategic”. This also demands wisdom and understanding on our own leadership, foreign policy and security establishment to even begin to comprehend let alone implement and see the benefits from the important understanding and agreements they have signed during the recent successful visit. In short and simpler language, learning from China to restore our own house in order will be the real test on how we utilize the goodwill and support of our neighbors, friends and well wishers, which Nepal has always been blessed with and were so clearly manifest in PM Oli’s recent visit to China and India a month earlier. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen .
(Speech delivered by Dr. Shambhuram Simkhada at a talk program recently organised in Kathmandu)