India and China vie for Influence in Nepal

Discussion in 'Defence & Strategic Issues' started by Rage, Mar 8, 2009.

  1. Rage

    Rage DFI TEAM Stars and Ambassadors

    Feb 23, 2009
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    Nepal's neighbours vie for influence

    00:43 GMT, Sunday, 8 March 2009

    Nepalese leader Prachanda has called for
    a 'revolutionary change' in relations

    China is slowly building up its influence in Nepal - and its gain there is India's loss.

    That is the assessment in some quarters in India after a spate of diplomatic activity by Beijing in the Maoist-led Himalayan nation, which is struggling to complete a peace process started more than two years ago.

    Recent months have seen a flurry of visits by Chinese political and military figures to Kathmandu to discuss bolstering ties.

    These include plans to strengthen road links and a railway line between China and Nepal, to help the Nepalese with military training and to re-negotiate a friendship treaty between the two countries, according to reports in the Nepalese and Indian press.

    'Substantial concern'

    To cap it all, the Nepalese Prime Minister and Maoist leader - Prachanda is expected to visit Beijing in April to finalise some of these projects.

    And the Chinese have not just limited their contacts to the Maoist rulers in Kathmandu.

    Visiting delegations from Beijing have met Nepalese leaders from across the political spectrum, including a coalition of Madhesi groups from the restive Terai region of southern Nepal, along the border with India.

    It's all been too much for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party in India, which raised the issue in India's parliament last month, alleging the government was ignoring the growing Chinese role in Nepal.

    "There is a substantial amount of concern among the Indian establishment," says Abanti Bhattacharya of Delhi's Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis. "The Chinese are making inroads across South Asia."

    There is an obvious explanation for the increased attention the Chinese leadership has been paying to Nepal.

    With the 50th anniversary of the exile of the Dalai Lama rapidly approaching, China wants to avoid a repeat of the protests by Tibetan exiles in Nepal that followed the Chinese crackdown in Tibet last year.

    "This is very important, and a core issue for China," says Ma Jiali of the China Institute of International Relations in Beijing. He also dismisses the idea that China is in a competition with India for influence in Nepal and that China's gain is India's loss.

    China card

    But could China ever supplant Indian influence in Nepal even if it wanted to?

    "Nepal is linked far too closely to India at multiple levels," says Nepalese journalist Sanjay Upadhya, who has written extensively on relations between India, China and Nepal.

    The prohibitively high costs of transport from China mean India would remain the main economic partner.

    And Beijing retains a residual suspicion of top Maoist leaders, given the close links some of them developed with India after many years of exile during the decade-long insurgency against the Nepalese monarchy.

    There are advantages for the Nepalese government in seeking to play the China card.

    It may give them added leverage when it comes to re-negotiating the more than 50-year-old friendship treaty with India, a long-standing demand of the Maoists who have condemned it as "unequal".

    Sanjay Upadhya says cultivating China is also popular with some sections of opinion in Nepal. "Proximity to China allows the leadership to bolster its nationalist credentials among the Maoist cadres," he says.

    It also helps to remind India that it has to tread carefully given the acute sensitivity of the Nepalese about Indian influence over their country.

    Comments by Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee in January about how India "persuaded" the Maoists to give up violence and join mainstream politics reportedly did not go down well in Kathmandu.

    "Such statements can be seen to belittle the Maoist struggle," says Indian analyst Abanti Bhattacharya.

    The Indian government does not at the moment seem unduly concerned about China's wooing of Nepal.

    On a brief visit to Kathmandu last month, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon declared that Nepal was a sovereign country and Delhi had no problem with its bilateral relationship with others.

    But as Beijing uses the opportunity offered by the uncertain political situation in Nepal to develop its ties there, it is clear that its every move will be scrutinised very closely in Delhi.
  3. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    Delhi sweats as China inches toward Nepal

    By Sudha Ramachandran

    BANGALORE - China's construction of a rail link between Lhasa and Xigaze (Shigatse) in the Tibet Autonomous Region will bring its rail network closer to its Nepal border and to India. The rail link has potential to boost Sino-Nepal trade and tourism; it is also expected to enhance China's already substantial influence in Nepal and bring the Chinese rail system closer too to the contested Sino-Indian boundary. A worried India is looking on as the Chinese railway steams southwards.

    Construction now underway of the US$1.9 billion, 253-kilometer rail line between Lhasa, Tibet's capital, and the region's second-largest city, Xigaze, will, according to the official Xinhua news agency, be completed in four years. It is an extension of a line

    between Golmud in Qinghai province and Lhasa, inaugurated in 2006.

    Xigaze is the capital of prefecture of the same name, Tibet's largest prefecture and one that shares boundaries with India, Nepal and Bhutan. Xigaze city is also the home of the Panchen Lama, the second most important spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism.

    The Golmud-Lhasa line has been hailed as a technological marvel as it cuts through some of the world's most difficult terrain; over 80% of the route lies at an altitude of 4,000 meters above sea level and large stretches run through permafrost conditions and part traverses an earthquake-prone area.

    Construction of the Lhasa-Xigaze link is expected to be no less challenging. It too will snake across terrain at an altitude of 3,500-4,000 meters. Nearly half the route will burrow through mountains - Mount Everest rises from Xigaze prefecture - or run across bridges. While construction across unstable permafrost soil confronted engineers building the Golmud-Lhasa line, the new route provides geothermal fields with hot springs to set them thinking.

    The Golmud-Lhasa railway came under sharp criticism from environmentalists, who argued that it would have disastrous consequences for the region's ecosystem. Human rights organizations and Tibetan activists said the train link into Tibet was aimed at Chinese consolidation of control over Tibet and would unleash a new wave of Han Chinese migration into the region.

    Many of these concerns and criticisms will apply to the Lhasa-Xigaze.

    An added concern for India is the rail's steady approach towards Nepal, a country it regards as lying in its sphere of influence, and its own borders. It is evident that the Chinese rail system will not terminate at Xigaze. In 2008, for instance, Chinese and Nepalese officials announced plans for extension of the rail beyond Xigaze up to Khasa, a small market town on the Sino-Nepal border - and it might not stop even there. Cheng Xia Ling, the Chinese ambassador to Nepal, was quoted in 2008 by Nepal Weekly as saying: "We are even planning to link it to Kathmandu in not too distant future."

    Landlocked Nepal has been eyeing the southward advance of the Chinese rail system with anticipation. It will bring it more tourists from China and Chinese trains loaded with goods will reduce the Himalayan country's long-standing dependence on Indian imports. To Nepal, the Chinese rail link promises opportunity.

    For India, the southward advance of China's rail system is fraught with implications for its security and influence. Nepal has played a traditional role as buffer between India and China. New Delhi has wielded considerable influence in Nepal for decades, half of Nepal's trade is with India and its currency is linked to the Indian rupee.

    India's influence has been on the decline in recent years, especially with Nepali Maoists entering Nepal's political mainstream. Indian officials believe that during their brief stint in power, the Maoists built strong ties with the Chinese government. Anti-India sentiment in Nepal is high, with many people and politicians blaming "Delhi's meddling" for an ongoing political impasse.

    Indian officials fear that the arrival of trains bearing Chinese people and goods will further undermine their country's already weakening hold in Nepal.

    Delhi also has worries over other proposed rail links that might be constructed up to the Sino-Indian boundary at Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. China is contemplating a rail link from Xigaze to Yatung, a trading center a few kilometers from Nathu La, a mountain pass that connects Tibet with Sikkim. Another rail line will run eastwards from Lhasa to Nyingchi near Arunachal.

    This southward expansion of China's rail lines is of concern to several Indian security analysts. Much of the Sino-Indian boundary is disputed and the two countries fought a war over it in 1962, which India lost. Incursions by both sides, especially along the eastern sector, are frequent given the fuzziness of the boundary.

    It was believed that the Sino-Indian boundary at Sikkim was more or less settled, especially with China implicitly recognizing Indian claims over Sikkim through a 2003 agreement that provides for Sino-Indian border trade via Nathu La. However, Chinese incursions into the Finger Point area in Sikkim in the summer of 2008 and its statements at that time indicated that the boundary at Sikkim was far from settled in China's view.

    As for the boundary in the eastern sector, China continues to lay claim to around 90,000 square kilometers of territory that roughly approximates Arunachal. It has stepped up its rhetoric, especially with regard to its claims over Tawang.

    It is in the context of these contested claims over the boundary that the extension of rail lines towards India is being seen.

    Although China's Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun has described the extension of the Qinghai-Lhasa line as a key project in China's long-and medium-term railway network expansion, aimed at speeding up Tibet's social and economic development, Indian analysts are warning that it has strategic implications.

    In an article in Japan Times, Brahma Chellaney, author of Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan, wrote that the rail link to Tibet "has now started being used to supply 'combat readiness materials for the air force' there." Regarding the proposed rail extension to India's borders in the east, he told the Times of India that it "will strengthen China's rapid military deployment capability in the eastern (Arunachal) sector." China would be in a position to rapidly move its armed forces and strike at India whenever it wanted to, he said.

    Road and railway building has been a key element of China's grand strategy in the Himalayan region for decades. Building motorways into Tibet began as early as 1950. As the People's Liberation Army prepared to annex Tibet, Mao Zedong advised it to "advance while building roads." Roads linking Xinjiang, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan to Tibet were constructed at great human cost, yet pursued with much determination because they facilitated the transport of troops to Tibet - which enabled the quelling of unrest there. They also helped China's economic development of Tibet.

    In contrast, India's infrastructure development in the Himalayan region has been lethargic. Its road and rail network near its boundary with China is abysmal. For instance, there is just one single-lane road connecting Sikkim's capital Gangtok to Nathu La and one landslide-prone road linking Sikkim to the rest of India. Sikkim's road density is 28.45 kilometers per 100 square kilometers against the national average of 84 kilometers. Arunachal Pradesh is even worse off, with a road density of just 18.65 kilometers per 100 square kilometers. India might have the world's largest rail network but there are no trains running into Sikkim or Arunachal.

    This means that when trainloads of Chinese goods begin arriving at Nathu La around a decade from now, mere truckloads of Indian goods will be trickling in.

    Underlying India's poor transport infrastructure in its border regions is a perception that roads and railways there are not in India's interest, as they would enhance China's access to India. Such transport links are not seen as providing Indian access to China.

    Fear, rather than ambition, thus dictated India's strategy to the Himalayan region.

    But with China flattening the Himalayan barrier to South Asia with its ambitious road and railway building in the region, India has been forced to respond.

    Slowly it is acting to build roads and railways in its states bordering China. It has plans to build rail infrastructure into Nepal as well. Five rail links between the two countries are being planned. Most are just a few kilometers long, and do not run through the kind of rugged terrain that the Chinese in the Himalayas have to contend with. However, Indian engineers are likely to run into a far more formidable barrier in executing the projects - official lethargy and negative mindsets.

    Unless India looks at its Himalayan infrastructure building as an opportunity rather than with trepidation, it will not be able to gain benefits of its own from China's leveling of the Himalayas.

    Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore.
  4. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    Indian and China hover over Nepal

    By Sudha Ramachandran

    BANGALORE - Nearly four months after Nepal's prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal stepped down under pressure from the opposition Maoists, the political impasse is showing no signs of resolution as the country flounders without a government.

    None of the candidates in the fray has been able to secure a simple majority in the 601-seat parliament in around 12 rounds of voting so far.

    Former prime minister and Maoist chief Pushpa Kumar Dahal, aka Prachanda, contested in seven rounds but failed to secure the required number of votes in any, although his party, the

    Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), is the largest in parliament.

    In the most recent round, the lone candidate, the Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Paudel, managed to get just 89 votes. The Maoists, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) (CPN-UML) and three Madhesi parties stayed out of the vote, having reached an agreement to work towards formation of a national government as a way out of the impasse.

    The political paralysis has contributed to a deepening economic crisis in the country, one of world's poorest. On Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council called on Nepal's caretaker government and all parties to "redouble their efforts" to break the deadlock.

    Officials from India, China and the European Union have been talking to political leaders and using all means at their disposal to break the stalemate.

    While the next round of voting is scheduled for October 26, there are few signs that the crisis will end soon.

    Sections of the Nepali media, the public and the political parties blame India for the impasse. They believe that Delhi's "meddling" in Nepal's politics is preventing government formation. An argument that has many takers in Nepal today is that Delhi has been working overtime to prevent the Maoists from returning to power.

    India's unease with the Maoists is well known. There is a perception here that Nepal's Maoists have strong links with India's Maoists. Indian officials continue to see them as rebels and are convinced that their shift to mainstream politics is temporary. India is opposed to their ambitions of restructuring in a fundamental way the Nepali state and its institutions, noted Indian analyst Siddharth Varadarajan wrote in the Hindu newspaper.

    Moreover, the Maoists are seen to be pro-China. During the short period they were in power, the Maoists were seen to be tilting towards China. Delhi fears that if they return to power, India's weakening influence in Nepal will diminish further.

    Landlocked Nepal is sandwiched between India and China (through Tibet). India looks on Nepal as falling under its sphere of influence and regards any warming of Sino-Nepal relations with suspicion.

    India has always played an important role in Nepal's politics. Nepal's pro-democracy movement was supported by India for several decades and Nepali Congress leaders waged their struggle for democracy from Indian soil. More recently, Indian leaders helped broker the 12-point understanding between the Maoists and Nepal's other political parties in 2005, enabling the rebels to emerge from the underground. Delhi played an important role too in convincing the king to step down.

    While Nepal's democracy owes much to India, it is a fact too that when democratic elections in 2008 brought the Maoists to power, Delhi's support for democracy wavered. In the series of spats between the Maoist-led government and the military in 2009, it backed the latter and blocked the Maoist move to sack the army chief. India is believed to have played a role in the collapse of the Maoist government in May 2009 and in putting together the coalition government headed by Madhav Nepal.

    Over the past year, anti-Indian sentiment has mounted in Nepal, visible in articles and editorials in the media and in public discourse. While it is possible that this sentiment is being stoked, as claimed by Indian intelligence agencies, by the Maoists, Indian officials cannot absolve themselves of responsibility for Delhi's fading fortunes in Nepal. Their repeated bungling has resulted in support for India touching an all-time low in Nepal.

    Delhi's excessive response to Nepal's largest media house - the Kantipur Group, with its "biased reporting" and "anti-India editorial positions" - is one example of this bungling.

    India was awarded a contract by the Nepali government for printing its passports. The decision was opposed by the Maoists. When the Kantipur Group, which was vocal in its criticism of the decision, published a leaked letter from the Indian ambassador to the Nepali government requesting its cooperation on the awarding of the contract as it involved Indian security, an embarrassed and annoyed India struck back.

    First, the embassy withdrew its advertisements in the Kantipur's publications. Then advertisements from Indian companies dried up, too. Then came a deadlier blow. Newsprint meant for Kantipur publications was stopped by Indian customs authorities at Kolkata port.

    When the Kantipur Group went public on the spat, Nepali public sentiment swung against Indian "bullying".

    While the dispute has since been resolved somewhat with Kantipur agreeing to adopt a more "constructive" editorial position and India releasing the newsprint, the damage to India's already plunging stock in Nepal has been done.

    Then came allegations by lawmaker Ram Kumar Sharma, a Madhesi politician who recently crossed over to vote with the Maoists. Sharma alleged that an Indian Embassy official had warned him that his daughter would be thrown out of an Indian government-run school in Kathmandu if he did not vote as told, ie not for Prachanda.

    While the veracity of his claim has yet to be established, what is clear is that the gloves are off in Nepal, with Delhi and the Maoists engaged in a no-holds-barred war of words and more.

    The Maoists have stepped up their stoking of anti-Indian sentiment in the country, while India's determination to keep the Maoists out of power is growing.

    Beijing involved too
    India, however, is not alone in "meddling" in Nepal's politics. Rival China seems to be at it too. The end of monarchy in Nepal was a huge blow to the Chinese, as Nepal's kings have traditionally been closer to Beijing than Delhi, the latter having supported the pro-democracy struggles. In 2005, for instance, King Gyanendra initiated the successful effort to get China into the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation as an observer, much to India's chagrin.

    Then when the Maoists came to power, China successfully wooed Prachanda. His exit was a setback to Chinese influence. The Chinese are just as determined as the Indians to see that they have a "friendly face" at the helm in Kathmandu, someone they can count on to crush the increasing activity of the “free Tibet” movement in Nepal. Hence their support for the Maoists. Prachanda is reported to have met Chinese officials repeatedly in recent months.

    China has matched India's every step in Nepal. In 2007, for instance, when India reportedly helped form the Terai-Madhes Loktantrik Party, Beijing deepened its interaction with the Madhesi Jana Adhikar Forum, even sending a Chinese to its annual conference last year.

    The Chinese role in the current impasse was laid bare recently when journalists in Kathmandu received a tape of a telephonic conversation between the Maoists' foreign affairs cell chief Krishna Bahadur Mahara and an unidentified Chinese official, wherein Mahara is heard asking for 500 million rupees (US$11.2 million) to secure the votes of 50 members of parliament, apparently from the Madhesi parties, for Prachanda.

    Beijing has not concealed its unhappiness with India's enhanced role. "Nepal must be able to solve its problems on its own without outside interference, and China takes every such interference seriously," He Yong, a member of the central secretariat of the Communist Party of China who led a 21-member delegation to Nepal, is reported to have said during meetings with the Nepali president, acting prime minister and the Maoist leader.

    China has never hesitated to pressure Nepal's government to act against Tibetan activists. A little over a fortnight ago, Chinese pressure forced Nepalese authorities to crack down on an attempt by Tibetans to vote in elections for a new government-in-exile. Police confiscated ballot boxes midway through the poll.

    More embarrassing for the Nepali government was the pressure it was subjected to when President Ram Baran Yadav planned to visit a Buddhist monastery in Boudha last year to inaugurate the centenary celebrations of a Buddhist monk. Chinese officials in Kathmandu warned the government that the visit would be interpreted in Beijing as aiding and abetting anti-Chinese activities. President Yadav canceled his visit an hour before his scheduled arrival at Boudha. Boudha is home to a large number of Tibetan refugees.

    While Chinese influence in Nepal is growing, India has only itself to blame for its dwindling clout in Kathmandu. Its misreading of the Maoists and its stubborn reluctance to accept them as a part of Nepal's democratic arena has pushed them into China's waiting arms.

    "India has lost the plot" in Nepal, Varadarajan observed. It has allowed "the paranoia and tunnel vision of its security and intelligence establishment to compromise its long-term strategic interests" in the region.

    Meanwhile, reports indicate that Nepal's deposed King Gyanendra is fishing in the country's troubled waters too, and is seeking to make a political comeback. He will be looking for powerful patrons. India and China are wading ever deeper into Nepal's political swamp. Which of them will succumb to the temptation of biting the ex-king's bait?

    Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore.
  5. Tshering22

    Tshering22 Sikkimese Saber Senior Member

    Aug 20, 2010
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    Gangtok, Sikkim, India
    The problem with Nepal is not Nepal but our weak and spineless government. Due to GOI's indecisiveness as in everything from city level matters to national and international matters, the GOI has little conscience over which party to support. Making a prat out of itself on being US's blue eyed democracy puppy boy resulted in souring the initial ties with Nepalese Royal family. This was further proven when the WEAK and PATHETIC GOI severed and strained the ties when King Gyanendra took absolute power in the country. Instead of making him stronger against an obviously pro-China Maoist party, GOI again faltered in taking Nepal's confidence.

    As if this was not enough the soft and weakling Manmohan government further stumbled as it couldn't even cover up their support of General Chhatraman Singh Gurung, Chief of Nepali Armed Forces against Maoists who are obviously funded and equipped by China's influential, smart and ruthless leaders (NOT politicians; leaders).

    In the end it is the Indian Government that is to blame for the losing touch. China despite being totally of different language, culture, non-religion, etc is able to put more into this relation than India that shares EVERYTHING including a common history with Nepal. Fie on such a loser government taht we have and shame on the silly Indian crowd that votes for such leaders again and again.
  6. anoop_mig25

    anoop_mig25 Senior Member Senior Member

    Aug 17, 2009
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    actually india made better move by brining nepal moaist to power. look how its chief is trying very hard to became prime minister once again . he is readt to go again his own people to become PM of Nepal once again. he is squabbling with his members of party itself. to implement their ideology they require to ower capture the power either through gun or barrel. now gun they can`t choose. and barrel wont give them absolute power. abd regarding china they would support whom ever was in power so nepali moaist ruling nepal like their counterpart in china is dream for them
  7. amoy

    amoy Senior Member Senior Member

    Jan 17, 2010
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    Once the rail extention from Lhasa to Xigaze, then to Yatung, and then southward into Nepal is completed landlocked Napal will see which way to go is at their best interest, with China as an availale option.

    After the Republic replacing that aging feudal monarchy, whoever rules Nepal (be it Maoist) has to tackle poverty in order to gain popularity and stay in office. China of course is a facilitator in such efforts.
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2010
  8. Tshering22

    Tshering22 Sikkimese Saber Senior Member

    Aug 20, 2010
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    Gangtok, Sikkim, India
    Quite wrong analysis, Anoop. For proving my point, I would like to take you to the pre-Maoist ruled Nepal and then into the transition period. Nepali Maoists initially started of as "PEOPLE'S STRUGGLE AGAINST ROYAL TYRANNY" which every Communist government claims in the beginning to get recruits to the cause. This further disillusioned people of King Gyanendra's wasteful indulgence and consider opposing him. India supported the initial Maoist rise in the hopes of capturing its attention and friendship as always but forgot more pragmatic and fierce right wing parties likes Rashtriya Prajatantra Party which as a stronger connection with India's BJP and right wing affiliates than any other Indian party sharing bonhomie with Nepali Maoists--- this was the game changer.

    Initialy Pushp Kumar Dahal as a PM was friendly and said that he wanted to make "India and China" as "Nepal's two arms of friendship and peace". This statement was further emboldened and backed when he stressed that the relationship between India and Nepal under Maoists would be like the "unbreakable relationship between Ayodhya (king Dashratha's kingdom) and Mithila (king Janaka's kingdom)".

    However, just then India's boom phase and economic clout was beginning to be noticed around the world meaning a more aggressive Indian corporatist attitude and success of Indian companies at out-doing their Nepali counterparts in Nepal. This soured Maoist PM when he started denouncing "India's economic bullying" as he called Indian companies' success in his country. Then he started approaching China more and more ferociously in terms of political favours. In return China asked repression of Tibetan refugees in Nepal which the Maoists happily did. This was starting to get noticed in Indian circles and gradually Maoists started kicking out non-Maoist supporters from government jobs.

    This crossed clear lines of danger when Dahal asked Gen. Chhatraman Singh Gurung to step down as Nepali general without completing his term or citing any official reason of dismissal. Gurung being friendly to India, refused and he was backed by our MEA. Just then, the religious repression and secularization of the country from its official Hindu status brought discontent among people and many started rioting and demanding the reason for taking this step. And amidst charges of inefficiency and mismanagement, Dahal had to step down ensuring a permanent anti-India sentiment in the eyes of the Red extremists.

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