January 3, 2012
Today, Republica published an editorial by Arun KR Shrivastav, which, as far as I know is a first in methodically questioning the wisdom behind the Nepali government kow-towing to China’s position on Nepal’s Tibetan refugee community. Highly recommended reading.
CHINA, TIBET & NEPAL: Until that Happens By Arun KR Shrivastav
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s upcoming visit to Nepal purportedly to put bilateral relations irreversibly in the perspective of Tibet is the last masterstroke by the outgoing leadership in China to link its relations with Nepal firmly and solely with the Tibet issue. The current leadership is scheduled to demit office in less than a year. Nepal has adopted a One-China Policy that accepts both Tibet and Taiwan as integral parts of China—a Chinese claim that rest of the world perceives as its insatiable aggrandizement boosted by its sheer size of population, geography and now the economy, ranked number two in the world. So, when it comes to bilateral relations or its worldview, Nepal has no opinion on any of the matters that the world finds wrong with China. And, with a Maoist-led government in power, the differences between the two nations on issues of ideology and therefore, the worldview, perhaps do not exist at all.
Nepali Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai has already been humbled by the Chinese displeasure over his revelation that the Chinese Premier is to visit Nepal from December 20. And, now the planned visit has been deferred too. For the suave but naïve Bhattarai, his experiences in New Delhi where he was received by a protocol officer have left him jittery. The current thaw in India-China relations was spearheaded by Rajiv Gandhi’s ice-breaking trip to China in the late 1980s. Ever since, India-China relations are practically based on the bonhomie between the Gandhi family and the ruling elite in China. One reason why Sonia thought to meet Bhattarai at a later point of time could be that she wanted to see how Bhattarai will balance the two regional powers and how he will accommodate their conflicting interests in the region. The message was clear: Gone are the days when you can take India for granted.
Not that having an independent opinion is wrong for Nepal when it entertains Chinese proposals. Rather, it must. But when such an opinion is attached with a begging bowl it is essentially highly demeaning for the morale of the nation and its people and therefore, must be shunned. Let’s take a call on Tibet based on conscience and interests of the nation. But don’t give the impression that the decision has been brought about by China on monetary considerations. This will allow Nepal enough elbow room to negotiate respectfully on issues where its independent worldview may run at cross-purposes with China. The notion that Nepal lies between booming economies of India and China and therefore the spillover effect will make it rich and prosperous is full of fallacy. For one, if Nepal ever comes to handling big projects and big money, it would need manpower with skills at par with the best in the world and that’s a far cry given the current mediocrity of the workforce. Such a pool of talent invariably calls for culling and picking from the international market. Same is true about huge funds, which require top-end professionals and institutions to handle them professionally. Such funds from China do not come strings unattached.
Why should Nepal tread cautiously when it comes to dealing with a friendly neighbor who is outshining the West? Why is it that when Bhattarai breaks bread with Jiabao in Kathmandu, he should tell the Chinese statesman that Tibet is an important issue between them? Not merely because it literally lies between the two nations but because it will forever be so. So, a sweeping the issue under the carpet or an agreement made under the shadow of a raised and curled eyebrow would not change the fact that suffering humanity between the two nations will never allow them a peaceful stint in the office. We are saying this in the context of the Shangri-Las of the world. What an irony!
The Chinese Ambassador to Nepal, Yang Houlan, in his article in Republica (Shining Tibet, July 24, 2011) talked about his impressions about Tibet. Supported by official data, he argued Tibet has made an all-round development under Chinese control and it’s becoming modern and exciting hotspot for international tourists. He sums up: “Today, Tibet stands at a new historical starting point.”
True. The world today stands bewildered at the Chinese advancements—but more in awe and confusion. There is hardly a day when reports of resentment and protest do not surface in modern-day China. Old-time restrictions are increasingly questioned and the leadership is infirm and jittery in their response to the fast-changing political canvas.
Ambassador Houlan spent two nights in Lhasa and was impressed by the developments in the snow desert. Many of us from this region who are associated with development concepts and their efficacy know there are not many wonderful models available. While Europe and America driven by their economic compulsions find it inevitable to deal with a Chinese economy which is fed on exploitation of natural resources and human capital. With the money so earned, it is keeping and developing a gigantic defense mechanism, whose guns are often seen pointed to fellow citizens as the cry for more freedom and opposition to state repression gains momentum. It is in this light that Nepal needs to have an independent voice and vision in the region.
For the rest of the world, China is seen with awe. Not so much in this region where every country and every politician worth his salt is experimenting endlessly to break the circle of poverty, but only with limited success. The region fails to understand what miracle the Chinese are doing to clock that confidence-boosting nearly double-digit growth rate that Nepal for example can’t do. Other Asian nations are finding it hard to compromise on workers’ rights and wages and openly flout environment and internationals laws—none of which is a matter of concern when China takes a business call. China’s success is a story only half told.
Houlan would have done better to spend a couple of hours with a Tibetan monk in Lahasa and enquired him about monkhood, Buddhism and Tibet in the present day context. That account would have been much enlightening reading. He should have asked with openness how they are able to restrain themselves in a time when violence is the culture.
He should have tried to understand the value of goodness, tolerance and co-existence in the context of Tibet. The Chinese policymakers have failed to learn from the Tibetan culture and worldview. They have rather tried to obliterate it altogether. There is where China needs to amend its course. China should realize that finding a solution to the Tibet issue is crucial to its relations with Nepal because it affects Nepal like no other country.
Wen Jiabao is coming anyway, and will spend three days in Nepal. That Nepal will have to struggle to accord the kind of security and reception Jiabao is used to will have a humbling effect on all concerned. It is likely that in the three-day sojourn, Jiabao would reflect how the sleep-inducing laidback Kathmandu winter is the right ambience to write a new chapter for the region in which China is seen as the magnanimous big brother who is ready to walk into a sulking Dalai Lama’s office in Dharmshala and bring him back to Lahasa with the respect and dignity this world guru deserves. That’s truly Asiatic and that would be the best legacy the outgoing leadership and Jiabao can give to his people and the world.
Until that happens, it’s a tightrope walk for Nepal.
for more information about Tibetan refugees in Nepal, see my new book, Caught in Nepal