China Flexes Its Regional Muscle
Via NPR and the New Republic, Ellen Bork, director of democracy and human rights at the Foreign Policy Initiative, writes about how Nepal is caught between its two powerful neighbors, India and China:
…Nepal has become the subject of a high stakes battle for influence between China, which occupies Tibet on Nepal’s northern border, and India, which surrounds the country on all other sides. Nepal’s current prime minister, Baburam Bhattarai, sent a signal by making his first trip abroad to Delhi last month, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will visit next year. But Chinese officials have responded with a full-court press of their own: Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan airport has seen a steady stream of Chinese officials, including the head of China’s People’s Liberation Army, who inked a $20 million military-aid deal with the Nepalese army. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, for his part, will visit Nepal in December.
At this stage it’s unclear who will prevail in this Sino-Indian struggle for influence, but one issue that is shaping up to be an important bellwether is Nepal’s role as a haven and way station for Tibetan refugees. In recent months China has set its sights on closing off this avenue to Tibetans, and it has stepped up the pressure it exerts on Nepal accordingly. India, which provides a home for the Dalai Lama and the democratic, exile government of Tibet, has a strategic stake in seeing Nepal stand up to Chinese pressure. How Nepal responds to China’s aggressive new campaign to cut off aid for Tibetans will indicate just how much influence the Chinese have in Kathmandu.
Meanwhile, boundary negotiations between China and India have been called off, according to reports in the Indian media. From the Indian Express:
The India-China boundary talks were called off after Beijing asked New Delhi to defer a Buddhist congregation where the Dalai Lama was to deliver the valedictory address next Wednesday. This, sources said, was also provoked by a covert Indian effort to get Buddhist delegates from China to attend this meet.
The narrative, however, is a bit more complicated. It started with a clash of dates that no one on the Indian side seemed to have noticed, and ended with the sudden calling-off yesterday of a scheduled two-day conversation between Indian and Chinese special representatives (SRs) on the boundary question.