BY PUJAB RAJ PRADHAN
Just as relations between China and India seem to be at a curious phase regardless those romantic lakeside walk and tea party during the informal ‘heart-to-heart’ meeting in Wuhan by the visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping; Nepal, did manage to accomplish some important agreements with both China and India respectively last month. Perhaps, Nepal is looking forward to leverage its geographical advantage and connect China and India for greater development.
Nepal indubitably is going through significant activities in its diplomatic sphere. Be it, Prime Minister K.P Oli’s traditional state visit to India followed by Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali’s visit to China less than two weeks after Oli visited India, or upcoming Indian Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Nepal this Friday explicitly 33 days after Oli visited India, or Oli’s imminent visit to China likely to follow anytime soon. These frequent visits certainly display the true efforts being made in its diplomatic sphere, howbeit history has it, the statements made and actions taken are not totally in consonance.
During the visit last month, India agreed to finance and construct a new electrified railway line linking Raxaul in India and Kathmandu in Nepal and has also agreed to support landlocked Nepal get access to the oceans through inland waterways. While, China hopes to build a multi-dimensional passage between China and Nepal covering ports, railways, roads, aviation, electricity, telecommunication and facilitate the construction of an economic corridor connecting China, Nepal and India through the Himalayas. Just recently a Chinese company has been consigned for the task of carrying out pre-feasibility study to build the 72 km Kathmandu-Kerung railway line. Additionally, a visit by Chinese President Xi to Nepal in near future is highly calculable.
While, China seeks common understanding with India for Nepal’s development, India has always been a critic of many ambitious projects that benefits Nepal and South Asia in the long-run claiming Xi’s initiative compromises on the sovereignty of India and labeling our politicians as anti-India. Even during his so called religious visit to Nepal, Modi is expected to rehearse and tell his Nepalese counterpart Oli that his government will continue to support development of Nepal through bilateral cooperation but, not through any mechanism involving a third country referring to China and the emergence of trans-Himalayan corridor. Taking into account China has no problem with Nepal maintaining good relationship with India and competing on level ground and realizes the fact that only a stable Nepal can take care of their security concerns.
Meanwhile, India has reportedly not shown much interest in the trilateral cooperation since it was put forward and China appears attractive because unlike India, it is not interested in the internal affairs of Nepal. Yet, there is an enormous domestic pressure on Oli to speed up the projects signed with China plus the pressure from India not to tilt toward China. Not to forget, the November 2016, BRICS summit in Goa, India, the unplanned meeting between then-Prime Minister of Nepal Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Indian Prime Minister Modi, and Chinese President Xi. When the meeting was publicized as the beginning of trilateral cooperation, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs responded very quickly saying it was not a trilateral meeting, providing more evidence that India is not in favor of trilateral cooperation. However, the biggest question lingering on every Nepalese mind is that whether the present Left-coalition government will take a step ahead with implementing the agreements made with both China and India or it will fall back in the trap of India in hopes of delaying the Chinese projects as we have witnessed in the past.
Although, it is still early to determine on whether China or India currently has the upper hand and in the best interest of Nepal, there is certainly growing pressure on Modi to improve the balance, much as his hypocritical expo of three separate surprise gifts for Kathmandu, Janakpur and Muktinath temple during his visit to Nepal this week. Admitting, Modi did start off well soon after he became the Prime Minister touring many neighboring countries with all nice but incredibly short lived gesture of neighborhood first followed by unofficial inhumane blocked just after the massive earthquake, proved beyond a shadow of doubt that India is a country that should not be trusted, depended or respected.
After all, trapped in its British-era mentality of controlling its neighbors, it seems Modi is incapable of remolding but instead is following the path of Nehru’s disastrous foreign policies. Nepal is a sovereign country and India should let Nepal go her way and stop corrupting and pressuring the political leaders, but then, whether India would write another story, shall be only reflected after Modi’s upcoming visit. Also, there is no need any more wondering why former president Nixon and Kissinger used expletives to refer India and Indira Gandhi, just to let you know how they felt about India and I don’t think the feeling has changed.
[The author is an executive member of the Nepal-China Cultural Economic Journalists and Intellectuals’ Society (NCCEJIS)]