President Xi Jinping when he took over the reins of China in 2013, he promised three things: –
1. End poverty by 2020.
2. To make China tech superpower.
3. To put China to the centre-stage of the world, with the Belt and Road Initiative.
President Xi Jinping has proven to be the most powerful leader of China since Mao Zedong. He has gone about achieving his goals with great zeal with his poker face expression. His friends or foes cannot make out what he is thinking and what will be his next move. He has met world leaders and his antagonists at home with the same inscrutability.
It is still unclear whether the world was unleashed with coronavirus intentionally or Xi Jinping took advantage of an unintended leak. Throughout the coronavirus crisis, Beijing has been taking a much harder line than usual in the international stage, which has surprised many foreign policy analysts. China’s approach to the world was never ironclad. Many factors determine a country’s diplomatic strategy, from its history, culture, and geography to the nature of its regime and its relative global power. If any of these factors are seen changing, so will the diplomacy of the country.
One thing is clear that China follows its own style of communism and does not like “democracy”. It has demonstrated to the world by withdrawing the semi-autonomous status of Hong Kong that it can go to any length to preserve its brand of communism a.k.a. Mao brand. It has no comradeship with the Lenin or Marxist having picked up a fight with its neighbours with those ideologies. Communist ideology followed by China is different from Russia.
In my opinion, China’s boldness for the diplomatic and military offensive post corona pandemic can be attributed on two counts viz world’s preoccupation with the coronavirus management and abdication of world leadership by the US like from UN and WHO etc. They have been scouting for this opportunity ever since Trump’s presidency who advocated the “America First” policy.
History is a witness that Nepal has gone on war with Tibet twice. And in the first war, the Qing empire which always thought Tibet as part of the empire came to intervene and defeated Nepal army. The Qing army reached up to Nuwakot in Nepal. A peace treaty was signed, and the Qing army withdrew and considered Nepal as its vassal. One of the clauses of the treaty was to pay a tribute to the Imperial court in China every five years. And ever since that China has eyes over Nepal. In fact, after the occupation of Tibet by China in 1951, China stated that “Tibet is China’s palm and Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Ladakh and the North East Frontier Agency of Assam are five fingers. Now that the palm has been restored to China, the fingers should go with it. [[i]]
Therefore, it does not surprise me when I read news from the newspapers published from Nepal that Chinese have constructed nine more barracks in an area which Nepalese official, Dattaraj Hamal, Assistant Chief District officer, observed when he visited the area and found additional infrastructures. And now, mother of all surprises comes in a news item that the missing pillar number 11 has been found by the Chief District officer of Humla, Mr Chiranjibi Giri, within 48 hours of reported encroachment, buried under snow and rubble. The pillar which was lost for more than a decade was dug out to satisfy the Chinese claim that the area was theirs (China), as claimed by the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu with series of media briefings. Please note that it was Assistant Chief District officer who found out and reported additional infrastructure built in the area. It was denied by his superior, Chief District Officer. The denial had to look legitimate!
An article by Monalisa Adhikari in The Indian Journal of Asian Affairs, titled Between the Dragon and the Elephant: Nepal’s Neutrality Conundrum described the foreign policy of Nepal thus. [[ii]]
Capitalization on Sino – Indian rivalry has defined the strength of Nepali foreign policy so far. Neutralizing India and China uneasily and addressing their interests and insecurities simultaneously has been Nepal’s foreign policy design is likely to foster two contrasting consequences: either it can serve as a bridge to India and China or Nepal will be a proxy battlefield between caught in the crossroads of vaulting regional ambitions of India and China in South Asia. The consequence it realises will be reliant on Nepal’s impetus for sound foreign policy. To ensure long term security of the three countries and of South Asia. Nepali foreign policy needs to elevate to bridge the contending concerns of China and India.
Any country which has the control of the sea can be a force to reckon with. Nations with strong navy have ruled the world far beyond their shores. Now China wants to do the same. China seeks to have free access to the sea in the west through Pakistan and is developing Gwadar port to reach the Arabian sea and to the Indian ocean. It has eyes to reach the Bay of Bengal through Nepal and Myanmar. It wants a free passage through the Malacca straits and therefore in the name of soft loan given to Sri Lanka has now taken over the Sri Lankan port, Hambantota in Dec 2018 when govt of Sri Lanka could not pay back the loan. It is asking Pakistan to begin repayment of loan which Pakistan is unable to do. And therefore, Gwadar port will meet the same fate as Hambantota of Sri Lanka. In the pretext of supplying oil and natural gas to Myanmar, it is laying pipelines for the same with an ulterior motive to reach the sea. It is courting Bangladesh for the same purpose. It has proposed to Bangladesh to develop Teesta river which will bring it to the doorstep of India and few km from Nepal border in the south-east. And therefore, Nepal is important for China.
China’s People’s Liberation Army is not invincible. It tried to invade Vietnam in Feb 1979. But Vietnam fiercely resisted, counterattacked and ultimately PLA withdrew. Both claimed victory though. China did not come to aid and support Nepal in Anglo — Nepal war (1814 – 16) despite the signed treaty wherein one of the clauses mentioned, “The Qing will help Nepal defend against any external aggregation.”. [[iii] ]
It is high time that the leaders of Nepal understood the chimera that China is. It must revisit the three goals that President Xi Jinping enunciated in 2013 and keep in mind while formulating its own policy.
Foreign policy is not prepared in isolation within the enclosed chambers of bureaucrats and political leaders. National military leadership must be involved. After all, it is the military which must deal with the external aggression which will always be a fall out of foreign policy. Therefore, political leaders of Nepal of all hues and colour must sit together to formulate a long term foreign policy keeping in mind two giant neighbours — one who has revanchism as its intent and an expansionist world view and another with whom there has been a cultural, traditional and religious tie for centuries.
Col Shiv Om Rana, Ph D
[i] Rowland, John., A History of Sino-Indian Relations: Co-existence. (Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Company, 1967), 144.
[ii] Adhikari, Monalisa., Indian Journal of Asian Affairs, Vol. 25. No. ½ (June – December 2012)
[iii] Sino – Nepal War, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sino-Nepalese_War#Aftermath, accessed on 25 Sep 2020.