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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

A middle path opens up to Nepal

March 20, 2009

By Dhruba Adhikary
Asia Times
March 20, 2009

KATHMANDU - While trade figures continue to
depict India and China as countries that are
getting closer by the day, their security
perceptions and approaches to events in the
neighborhood - and beyond - remain strikingly
divergent, showing them as competing powers.

New Delhi's increasing affinity with Washington
appears to be a matter of concern in Beijing, and
the growing Chinese assertiveness in the region
is making the Indians nervous. ( See Asia Times Online December 11, 2008.)

By presenting a draft of a proposed friendship
treaty to Nepal, replacing the one signed in 1960
in Kathmandu, China has signaled to India (and
its Western allies) that it is not willing to
allow Tibet to be a flashpoint like disputed
Kashmir is between India and Pakistan.

The Chinese may also be keen, as a longer-term
objective, to make their presence in South Asia
more meaningful than it has been. Details of the
draft have not been made public immediately, but
there are adequate indications to suggest that
Beijing wants Nepal to give its publicly-declared
"one-China policy" undertaking in black and white
in lieu of a pledge to help Nepal protect its
sovereignty and territorial integrity should there be any attack on it.

"Nepal is not rushing to take a firm view on the
Chinese draft until the country resolves the
issue of the 1950 treaty with India," C P
Gajurel, head of the Maoist party's international
relations unit, told Asia Times Online.

The emerging scenario reminds observers of the
book written by Indian journalist Girilal Jain in
1959: India Meets China in Nepal. China's
proposal for a new treaty was handed over to
Nepali officials by a visiting minister Hu
Zhengyue on February 26. But a hint that
something of this nature was on its way from
Beijing was given by Hu's boss, Foreign Minister
Yang Jiechi, when he visited Nepal in December.

Subsequently, Yang broached the subject when
Nepal's Foreign Secretary Gyan Chandra Acharya
was in Beijing, where his talk was not confined
to "the traditional friendship" but alluded to
China's eagerness to upgrade bilateral relations.
A Xinhua report on February 18 quoted Yang as
saying that China viewed "dealing with and
developing ties with Nepal from a strategic and long-term perspective".

One of Nepal's highly respected diplomats, the
late Professor Yadunath Khanal, wrote nearly 10
years ago that while the Chinese preferred to
work with - and through - kings in those times
"it would be unrealistic to assume that they have
no alternative strategy in case the present
policy fails". Khanal had a stint as Nepal's
ambassador to China. He earlier served in the
same capacity in India and the United States.

The Chinese expect Nepal's Prime Minister
Prachanda to conclude the treaty during his next
visit to Beijing in a few weeks, but Nepali
officials think they need more time to study the
draft for possible implications in terms of
Nepal's relations with other countries.

Besides, Nepal is in political transition now,
with a Maoist-led interim government in which the
coalition partners have differing views on
important policy issues. Both of Nepal's
neighbors are aware of these unsettling political challenges.

Early friendship

The Treaty of Peace and Friendship signed by
prime minister Chou Enlai and prime minister B P
Koirala (Nepal's first elected prime minister)
during the former's visit to Nepal in April 1960
does not contain any provisions which could lead
to it being called an unequal pact. The last
article says it will remain in force until
terminated by either side by giving notice of one year.

The treaty laid to rest all of Nepal's claims
over Tibet and China's claims over Nepal. Tibet
used to pay a tribute of 10,000 rupees to Nepal
every year until 1953, but the Dalai Lama was
unable to continue the tradition after China
effectively took control of the Tibetan administration.

Nepal, too, had a practice of sending a
diplomatic mission, with expensive presents, to
China every five years, but this was stopped
after 1906. In a book published in 1939, Chinese
leader Mao Tsetung described Nepal, together with
Bhutan and Burma (now Myanmar), as "dependent
states" that China lost to Britain.

The situation took another turn when Nepal's
rulers in 1946 found it expedient to receive a
mission from the Nationalist government of China
in Kathmandu and accepted gifts from Chiang
Kai-shek for supporting China during the war of
resistance against Japan. Chiang later fled to
the island of Taiwan and established a government
there after the communists took over the mainland in 1949.

Nepal sent a reciprocal mission to Nanking in
China in April 1947, just a few months before the
British left India for good, as the Nepalese
rulers thought that an independent and democratic
India would not be sympathetic to them.

The mission, led by an army general, conferred
various Nepali titles and honors on the
"illustrious president" Chiang and his wife,
Soong May-ling. But the mission failed in terms
of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations
as Chiang's government was preoccupied with the
war against Mao's communists. When the Chinese
nationalist government collapsed in 1949 and fled
to Taiwan, Nepal's Rana rulers abandoned this northern plan.

They then turned to the south and began
negotiations with Indian premier Jawaharlal
Nehru, which led to the conclusion of the to this
day controversial treaty of 1950, signed on July
31 of that year. Unlike the one signed with China
in 1960, it is considered "unequal" by Nepal as
it consists of provisions which give more
advantages to India. The century-old Rana regime
was abolished seven months later, but the treaty was not scrapped.

In the period between 1951 and 1955, Nepal
remained ambivalent to China's overtures for
establishing diplomatic relations, ostensibly
because of a reluctance to come close to a
communist regime. The extra-territorial rights
Nepal enjoyed over Tibet were also lost in the
process of China's advance towards Lhasa. Despite
China's desire to include Nepal, Nehru's India
sidelined Nepal when they concluded an agreement with China on Tibet in 1954.

China's change

The reasons for China wanting a new treaty remain
a topic of debate. One theory is that it is
merely a message to India that if New Delhi, with
which it has a long-standing border dispute,
re-opens the Tibet issue, with the support of
Western powers, China will not sit idly on
Kashmir and on northeast India, where independence movements are active.

An irritant for China is the porous Nepal-India
border through which Tibetan exiles travel back
and forth drawing attention of those supporting
the "Free Tibet" movement. The Chinese have taken
up this issue in an indirect way by indicating
that, as Nepal's immediate neighbor, China should
also get "visa-free" entry into Nepal for its
citizens. In other words, the Chinese are
encouraging Nepal to revise its 1950 treaty with
India to include provisions for a regulated border.

However, Nepal has failed thus far to persuade
India to change the treaty to make room for timely adjustments.

Instead, Delhi has been putting on pressure since
2005 for a new extradition treaty to replace the
one signed in 1953. Giving justification for
this, Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee
told parliament on February 26 that a new treaty
was required in view of the changes in the nature
of crime and revised international norms on extradition.

But Kathmandu is hesitant, saying that an interim
government is not capable of taking such a
decision as it would have a long-term effect on
foreign policy. The proposed extradition treaty
is said to have a provision on arrest of
third-country nationals (mainly Pakistanis and
Chinese) for extradition to India.

In the broader picture, the situation in which
India, with Western support, seemed to be working
to encircle China is rapidly changing. India
finds itself encircled by a hostile neighborhood.
Pakistan is already a Chinese ally. Myanmar is also friendly with Beijing.

Sri Lanka, which was once heavily influenced by
India, is on better terms with its rival to the
north. "China fuels Sri Lankan war," is how
Brahma Chellaney, an Indian professor, complained
in an article published in The Japan Times on
March 4. "Today, India is ringed by turbulent
states," said another Indian writer, Bharat
Verma, last week. Nepal, he says, is vulnerable
to China's influence, and its extremists have
linkages with the People's War Group (Maoists) in
India. China is slowly building up its influence
in Nepal - and its gain there is India's loss, said a recent BBC commentary.

"We have no policy. We have only friendship," was
a traditional expression in Nepal about its
southern neighbor. "The same is perfectly true of
our relations with our great northern neighbor,"
historian Vijay Kumar Manandhar has quoted
Nepal's prime minister in 1946 as saying. This
was in the welcome extended to the head of a Chinese delegation.

There are Nepalis who think that the underlying
meaning of the quoted expression should still be
relevant. Seasoned radio commentator Krishna
Prasad Sigdyal is one of them. Nepal stands to
make considerable gains by being a bridge between
China and India, he told Radio Sagarmathaa listeners on Monday.
The rivers that originate in China flow through
Nepal and reach India, giving Nepal an
opportunity to harness them for electricity and
irrigation. By serving as a transit nation for
two great powers of Asia, Nepal can make a
tremendous contribution to reducing poverty in South Asia.

"Or are we doomed once again to find ourselves
regretting lost opportunities?" Sigdyal wondered.

Dhruba Adhikary, a former head of the Nepal Press
Institute, is a Kathmandu-based journalist.
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