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China Strengthens Hold on Nepal, Comes to India's Doorstep

posted Jun 26, 2011, 7:43 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Jun 26, 2011, 8:02 PM ]

By Jayadeva Ranade
Daily News and Analysis/DNA India
Friday, June 24, 2011

A series of recent events reveal that China’s geo-strategic policy has Nepal firmly in its cross-hairs and is determined to bring it definitively under its influence. China has now recommended a proposal with potentially far reaching implications, especially for India. Intended to achieve multiple objectives, it retains the focus on Nepal while seeking to neutralise Tibetan activism, undermine the Dalai Lama’s influence, including in Nepal, consolidate China’s political and economic influence in Nepal, and help China achieve its long-term strategic goal of bringing Nepal irrevocably under its influence. Success in the last two means that China will have crossed the Himalayas and established its influence up to the lower foothills bordering India.

When the Chief of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) visited Kathmandu this April, he signed a USD 19.8 million defence agreement directly with Nepal’s Army, ignoring the protestations of Nepal’s Ministry of Defence. Following the visit, the Beijing-based and supported Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation has now proposed a $3 billion Development Plan for Buddha’s birthplace, Lumbini, ostensibly ‘with no strings attached’. Beijing, which for the first time in 2006 officially described Buddhism as a peaceful ‘ancient Chinese religion’ and has held two World Buddhist Forums, apparently continues to seek legitimacy from the Buddhists.

Composition of the board of the Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation hints strongly at Party and PLA links. Nepal’s Maoist leader Prachanda, is the Foundation’s Vice Chairman has attended two of its events in Malaysia and Singapore in October 2010 and March 2011 respectively. He claims a major role in getting China’s support for this project. Xiao Wunan, a senior Chinese Communist Party cadre who is Deputy Director of an office of China’s National Development and Reform Commission in Western China, is Executive Vice President of the Foundation. He is also Vice President of the World Buddhist Peace Foundation, which helps organise the Beijing-sponsored World Buddhist Forums, and was formerly Vice President of the editorial board of the journal Study on Maoism. The Executive Director of this Foundation is Eric Tay, who graduated in 1993 from China’s Air Force Institute of Engineering. He owns companies in Beijing and Shenzhen which invest in commodities and energy resources.

This cheque-book diplomacy by Beijing reinforces earlier road and rail projects linking Lhasa with Kathmandu and promises a huge cash infusion to a country with a GDP of barely USD 12.5 billion. Plans envisage construction of temples, an airport, a highway, hotels, convention centres and a Buddhist University. Expectations are that Lumbini, which presently attracts 5,00,000 tourists annually and is just a two hours drive from India’s Gorakhpur, will become a trans-border tourist attraction spawning numerous ancillary service enterprises, generating a steady revenue stream. Xiao Wunan has said he hopes the Lumbini project brings together all three Buddhist Traditions, namely Mahayana, Tibetan Buddhism and Theravada. The proposed university will rival the one planned at Nalanda. Unstated is that these construction projects will be awarded to Chinese companies and probably PLA-affiliated sub-contractors, or engineering personnel will be employed. This implies long term Chinese presence, and going by the experience of many countries in Africa, the mushrooming of illegal Chinese settlements along Nepal’s borders with India.

This $3 billion overture to Kathmandu is, interestingly, accompanied by Beijing’s apparent decision to shed its earlier aversion to non-formal contacts with prominent Tibetans and Tibetan entities. This subtle, but significant, shift was noticed during Governor of Sichuan, Jiang Jufeng’s 3-day visit to India this April. Jiang Jufeng met privately with Dolkar Lhamo Kirti, President of the Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA) and Samten Choedon, TWA’s Vice President, at the Maurya Sheraton Hotel, Delhi. They discussed the protests in Kirti Monastery where 300 monks are in jail since March 16. Accepting their petition, Jiang Jufeng assured the matter would be examined.

This is the first time a visiting senior Chinese official privately met exiled Tibetans in India. It could be a tactic to divide the exiled Tibetan community, or an attempt by both sides to find new methods at accommodation. The latter is suggested by the Tibetan community’s failure to stage routinely organised protests during the visit of former hardline Tibet Party Secretary, Zhang Qingli, to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji this May.

— The author is a former additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.


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