Saturday 2nd of March 2024

China’s Growing Imprint in Nepal has Strong Message for India
Gaurav Kumar
Region : Asia, South Asia, India, Nepal, North East Asia, China,
Issue : Military Issues, Security,
The evolving geopolitical realities in South Asia are a matter of concern for India. The problem of shrinking space for convergences of interests between India and its neighbour is compounded by slow but strong involvement of China in the region. Nepal, among all the South Asian countries that shared strong cultural, religious and political links with India is fast inclining towards China. Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli recent visit to China signalled growing friendship and bilateral cooperation between the two countries in wide-ranging areas including cross-border rail and road connectivity. The two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to build a strategic railway link connecting the Gyirong trading port in the city of Xigaze in Tibet with the Nepali capital Kathmandu. The railway line has huge strategical significance for India, as it will bring Chinese prresence very close to its borders. Nepal and China had signed the MOU on Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative on 12 May 2017.
China is investing heavily on infrastructure development projects in Nepal. Some of the major on-going projects under Chinese assistance includes: Upper Trishuli Hydropower Project- Power station and Transmission Line Projects, Food/ Material Assistance (Grant) in 15 bordering districts of northern Nepal, Kathmandu Ring Road Improvement Project with Flyover Bridges, Tatopani Frontier Inspection Station Project (Construction of ICDs at Zhangmu-Kodari), Pokhara International Regional Airport.
China is the second largest trading partner of Nepal, after India. Nepal imported goods worth Rs 127.24 billion from China in the first 10 months of the current fiscal year (16 July 2017 - 15 July 2018). Exports to China nearly doubled in the same period of Rs2.66 billion, up from Rs1.42 billion. In 2016, According to the statistics by Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB), China had outdone India in terms of committing FDI in Nepal as well as in terms of projects in Nepal. China had pledged Rs 6.21 billion for 125 projects in the last fiscal year 2015/16 while India has pledged Rs 1.94 billon for 23 projects. In 2017, Nepal government figures show that China accounted for as much as 68 per cent of all FDI pledged for Nepal in the first half of the fiscal year.
The above statistics clearly suggests growing Chinese influence in the Nepalese economy. However, China has expanded its political imprint too; thanks, to lackadaisical and injudicious response from India to its political relations with its closest neighbour. Brahma Chellaney, a geostrategist clearly charts three major Indian blunders since the mid-2000s that have proved very costly for India — spearheading the abolition of Nepal’s constitutional monarchy; bringing the underground Maoists to the centre-stage of Nepali politics; and, more recently, aiding the plains people’s revolt against the new, 2015-drafted Nepali Constitution and then abandoning their movement and pressuring them (Madhesis) to participate in the 2017 elections.
The impact of these blunders was visible during the last year election, where the Communist party under the leadership of K.P Oli won the election on anti-India plank. Madheshi movement was left in tatters, with multiple fragmentations being allowed within the movement. K.P. Oli has never shown any reservations in displaying his political inclination towards China. Any illusion about his neutrality was swiftly cleared when he along with General Secretary of the party visited the only trade and transit point between Nepal and China in Rasuwagadhi just after the election. On his visit he declared that the transit point would be upgraded to international standards.
Last year under his premiership, Nepal had secured transit rights through China following an agreement in Beijing. His search for alternative transit route came after 134 days blockade at the Nepal-India border checkpoint in Birgunj town in Parsa District. He explicitly blamed India for tacitly supporting the blockade and for the crisis faced by Nepal. PM Oli had then stressed that the Government has learnt a serious lesson from the four-month Indian blockade and is now committed to further diversification of Nepal's transit and trade options. Later, the economic blockade had created political turmoil forcing him to resign. He accused India of effecting a government change by forcing Maoists to withdraw support from his government through a “remote control.”
The new development has serious implication for India both at political and at strategic level. At political level, India’s support for the Madheshi groups political movement seeking prominent participation in Nepal’s mainstream politics and decision making is seen as an hostile attitude towards Kathmandu, India by abandoning the Madheshi cause has not only alienated its strong supporter among the residents of Tarai region, it effectively signalled that it is incapable of sustaining its pressure on government in Kathmandu. The electoral support for the CPN-UML clearly suggests the citizens of Nepal have rejected the idea of further political participation of the people from the Tarai region as well as India bullying Nepal on its domestic issue.
At strategic level, the rising threat of China on its eastern front is clearly evident by its growing impact in Nepal. China has in the past shown keenness to strengthen ties with Nepal. One of its strategical objectives has been to encircle India. China presence on its eastern border will certainly increase strategic and security threat to India.
It has now become imperative for India to reevaluate its policy towards Nepal, which certainly requires modification of objectives and political will. India no more can consider Nepal as its minion. It will have to tread more cautiously, and will have to manage Nepal in a more accommodative manner, echoing the popular sentiments of the people of both the hills and the plains.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s)

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