With an Eye to India and Tibet, China Courts Nepal

China has pledged to give more support to Nepal, including providing them with greater military-aid. China’s attempt to forge closer ties with Nepal is an important geopolitical strategy given Nepal’s proximity to politically sensitive areas such as India and Tibet. China is increasingly looking to improve relations with Asian neighbors and gain greater credibility and support in the region. From Time Magazine:

It is not every day that the military chief of the world’s emerging superpower stops by a tiny Himalayan nation. So when General Chen Bingde, Chief of General Staff of China’s People’s Liberation Army, touched down in Kathmandu on March 23, all of Nepal was watching. Chen didn’t disappoint: he signed a military-aid deal worth $20 million and promised that there was more to come. He also took the chance to comment on Chinese-Nepali relations, saying that ties between the two countries are important to “world peace and the Asia-Pacific region.”

Referencing the Asia-Pacific region on a three-day visit to South Asia might seem odd — but it wasn’t accidental. Chen’s comments reflect China’s not-so-subtle effort to solidify its territorial claims and enhance its regional influence. Though Nepal is tiny, with a population (about 28 million) that barely exceeds those of the Middle Kingdom’s largest cities, China sees it as an ally on sensitive, geostrategic issues like India and Tibet. Nepal’s government, meanwhile, seems eager to embrace its new patron. Twenty million is a trifle to China but means a lot to Nepal’s war-weary army. By the time Chen left, the country’s Maoist-backed leader, Jhalanath Khanal, vowed once again that there would be no “anti-Chinese activities” on Nepal’s soil.

These moves are seen in Nepal as evidence of Beijing’s growing sway among Kathmandu’s ruling elite. Indeed, the current Maoist–United Marxist-Leninist coalition government, which replaced the former pro-Indian government, is widely seen as pro-China. Kumar says the Chinese want to forge an alliance with Nepal’s army because “it is the only reliable and strong institution, untarnished and untainted, and in which external penetration is still low.” Professor S.D. Muni, a visiting fellow at the National University of Singapore, attributes China’s upper hand in Nepal to its pragmatism. “Beijing does not have any serious emotional or cultural bonds with Nepal like India does. It can therefore relate itself with any political force in control of Nepal, be it Maoists or the army,” he says. The mighty Himalayas may have once been a natural border between the Middle Kingdom and Nepal. As China looks west, that’s no longer true.

Besides concerns about India, China’s courting of Nepal seems aimed at Tibetans, too. It may be little coincidence that simultaneously while finalizing deals with Nepal, China has also asked Nepal to close off Nepalese borders to Tibetan exiles. From the Himalayan Times:

SINDHUPALCHOK: Chinese security officials have requested the Nepali counterparts in the bordering district of Sindhupalchok to bar Tibetans from entering Nepal, fearing that the latter might resort to anti-China activities in the name of marking the 52nd anniversary of Dalai Lama’s exile.

At a meeting held in Khasa, the Chinese side informed the Nepali authorities that Tibetans had decided to celebrate the exile anniversary tomorrow.

Chief District Officer Bishnu Kumar Karki, a member of the Nepali team that attended the meeting, assured the Chinese that they will not let anyone use the Nepali territory for anti-China activities. CDO Karki described the meeting with Chinese officials as informal.

“They urged us not to allow anti-Chinese activities in our soil. No decision was taken at the meeting,” he said. Chinese security officials hold a series of meetings with Nepali officials in February-March with a request to prevent Tibetans from conducting anti-Chinese activities using Nepal, according to Karki.


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