Tuesday, December 30, 2014

China’s inroads in Nepal

Wang Yi with Nepali Prime Minister
My article China’s inroads in Nepal appeared today in NitiCentral.

Here is the link...

At the end of November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Nepal and held important talks with his Nepali counterpart Sushil Koirala. Not only did they discuss strategic issues, but India and Nepal signed 10 bilateral agreements.
Further, India offered a line of credit (LoC) of US$ 1 Billion to be utilized for hydropower, irrigation and infrastructural development projects. After the meeting, Narendra Modi commented: “When we trust each other, we can move forward very quickly.”
Though that sounded very positive, these developments may not have been appreciated on the other side of the Himalayas. According to Reuters, “China will increase official aid to Nepal by more than five times from fiscal 2015-16.” China wants “to develop infrastructure in the landlocked nation where regional rival India has long wielded political influence,” says Reuters which further reported: “The jump in assistance was announced after talks between visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Nepali counterpart Mahendra Bahadur Pandey, part of a deepening engagement which is expected to lead to a visit by President Xi Jinping next year.”
China has two main stakes. One, Beijing wants to control the Tibetan refugees living in Nepal and make sure that their ranks do not increase in the coming years. Two, the Communist leadership wants to render Kathmandu economically dependent on the trade with Tibet (read China).
According to Xinhua: “Wang expressed his gratitude toward Nepal for its firm and precious support in China's core interests, including the issue of Tibet, …China and Nepal should not only be friends of mutual trust and mutual support, but also should be good partners of common development and common prosperity.”
On the first issue, Tibet, China has already acted. During his visit to the former kingdom, Wang Yi laid the foundations of a ‘police academy’ to train officers of Nepal’s Armed Police Force to guard the districts bordering Tibet. The new police academy is a ‘gift’ to Nepal, on top of the annual aid of US $128 million. The Chinese Foreign Minister told reporters: “As neighbors China and Nepal have common security needs ... we need to work together to crack down on illegal border crossings and transnational crimes.”
The Nepali leaders are not concerned as to why so many Tibetans try to escape Tibet. In the past, tens of thousands of Tibetans crossed over the Himalayan passes; once they reached Kathmandu, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees would use issue them passes for their onward journey to Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh where the Dalai Lama lives.
Beijing calls these refugees, ‘illegal migrants’ and has decided to ‘help’ Kathmandu (with ‘gifts’ such as the Police Academy) to stop the hemorrhage of Tibetan through the Himalayan passes; as a result, the number of Tibetans ‘migrants’ has fallen from about 2,500 six years ago to about 200 last year.
On the second issue, China wants to increase manifold the trade between Tibet (China) and Nepal. Wang proposed to “widen pragmatic cooperation in nine sectors, namely trade, investment, agriculture, infrastructure, science and technology, interconnection and intercommunication, tourism, cultural and educational exchanges, security and law enforcement.”
The Foreign Minister stated that the two nations should fully implement the ‘three supports’, namely funds, talent and geography.
About geography, new facilities at the China (Kyirong) Nepal (Rasuwa) Bilateral Port have been opened on December 1. The China Daily says that it will “to boost business between China and Nepal and benefit nearby residents.”
The Kyirong port is an old gateway between Tibet and Nepal; the present border post was opened in 1962, when the traditional trade between India and Tibet stopped due to the Sino-Indian conflict.
The China Daily admits that the trade through Kyirong “began to drop off in the mid-1980s and continued to decline through 2006,” but in the recent years, exchanges between China and Nepal have increased so much that the Zhangmu Port, Tibet's largest land port, could no longer cope with the demand.
Penpa, director of the Tibet Autonomous Region's Department of Commerce explained: “Since 2008, preparatory projects to expand the [Kyirong] port have been launched, including equipping the port with inspection and support services."
Wang Long, the director of the new Kyirong Customs said that the extension of the Qinghai-Lhasa Railway line to Shigatse (opened in August) will be a bridgehead towards South Asia; he added: “There will be an increase in the categories of products and the quantity of exported electronic products, and there will be a rise in trading volume as well."
Does it mean that China is planning to flood India with consumer goods through the porous Indo-Nepal border in the Terai? This could be a very serious issue for India.
Su Yuanming, director of Tibet’s Port Administrative Office also told The China Daily: “Operation of the port means a solid foundation for China to build the South Asia trading area, and it will help to promote trade between China and South Asian countries in the near future."
It is time for India to wake up to this new threat.
From January through November 2014, trade volume through Kyirong Port reached 1,600 metric tons for a value of US $ 4.5 million, double the value of the past three years combined. With the formal opening of the new facilities, these figures are bound to increase manifold in 2015.
The China Daily emphasizes that it will greatly improve the lives of the local population on both sides. It quotes Lhakpa, a Tibetan from Kyirong Township, who worked as a driver since the age of 15, and now, at the age of 34, owns a small transport company: “I have long been waiting for this day, and I believe it will boost my business." Lhakpa explains: "With improved traffic conditions and a better electricity network, our villagers have begun to enjoy the advantages brought about by the government."
It is true that the residents of Kyirong have been trading with Nepal since ancient times, though the quantity of products has always been limited. Following the opening of the new port, it may not the case anymore.
In November 1950, a few days after China invaded Tibet, the young Editor of Mother India, (published in Mumbai) asked Sri Aurobindo, the great Indian freedom fighter and yogi about these ominous happenings in the Himalayas. The sage gave his views; in his next editorial, K.D. Sethna, the journalist wrote: “Let us not blink to the fact that Tibet is useful to China principally as a gate of entry to India. Nepal …appears to be the most likely objective;” Sethna further explained: “An extension of Mao’s rule to Nepal will lay India open to easy attack by him [Mao]”.
It is what is happening 64 years later.
The new port and the arrival of the train in Shigatse (and later in Kyirong) will also have strategic and security implications on India, especially if the military exchanges between Beijing and Kathmandu keep increasing.

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