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Qualitative change in relation with China not possible right away

The debate on the role of foreign powers in Nepali politics has once again sharpened with a spotlight on the relationship between the Maoists and India. The Maoist rhetoric, acerbic in its criticisms of perceived Indian interventions a few years ago, has substantially subsided—something which the opposition parties’ claim has to do with Prime Minister uram Bhattarai-led government’s policies . To get his view on Nepal’s foreign policy, the Post’s Gyanu Adhikari spoke with Bhattarai on India, China and the challenges of Nepali nationalism. Excerpts:

Most of Nepal’s Prime Mini-sters have faced accusations of lacking nationalist credentials. Why?

There are historical reasons. Especially after the Treaty of Sugauli where Nepal had to compromise with a weaker position, the hegemony of the British increased. Their role was visible in all changes of government here. With time, in terms of political economy, our relationship with India became increasingly unequal. Because of the Himalayas and difficulty of transport, we remained distant from China. Nepal was capable of having equal relationships with both India and China before the Sugauli treaty. During the Rana regime, our relationship with the north became almost non-existent. That made keeping a balanced relationship with India difficult. Political economy-wise, we were transitioning towards industrial capitalism before Sugauli. That process was halted. And we turned into exporters of labour, and importers of goods from British India. Today, if you look at the political economy, we’re so dependent on India that it’s not possible to halt foreign intervention even if one wants it.

But some actors have been more skillful than others at the balancing act?

Practically speaking, the role of individual does not have much bearing. During the Cold War in the 60s, king Mahendra tried to balance the relationship to run his autocratic regime. In the 80s, the situation changed, and Mahendra’s policy was no longer possible: Nepal was compelled to tilt towards the south. It’s because of this reason that a psychology of insecurity continued among the Nepalis. When a country is dependent with another country economically, making the relationship favourable politically, is impossible.

Was there a fundamental shift in the relationship between India and Nepal after India was decolonised?

There were no real changes in terms of the political economy. Nepal had a movement for democracy, and the worldwide movements for national independence also affected us in some ways. A slightly modified version of the 1923 treaty Nepal had signed with the British India was inked in 1950, but it was a continuation. Without a change in political economy, other changes in relationship were not possible.

Your party sometimes says that we’re a semi-colonial country. Why?

Political economy-wise, it’s still semi-colonial but that semi-colonial form is changing into a neo-colonial form. You can call the current situation a neo-colonial relationship with economic and financial domination. In the language of dependency theorists, it’s a dominant-dependent relationship. Many other countries like ours in the developing world are tied in this type of relationship.

Your party regarded India as the ‘principal enemy’, now critics accuse you and your party of being ‘pro-India’ (Bharat-parast). Can you explain?

This is a shallow analysis made by people who don’t understand the history and political economy. Since Nepal’s communist party was established in 1949, and especially at the height of Maoist movement, the policy has been to end semi-feudal relationships internally and semi-colonial/neo-colonial relationships externally. Only then can Nepal become fully sovereign and democratic.

at a certain stage of the movement, we raised the issue of nationalism more vocally. But after the People’s War took a new height, and when the monarchy started asserting itself, we shifted our policy: we put on hold the external aspect and focused on the internal aspects.  People who don’t understand this say we’re Bharat-parasta.

Many Nepalis worry the rivalries between two rising powers, China and India, is being played out in Nepal.  Comments?

Both China and India are developing countries. They shouldn’t consider each other as rivals. Historically, China was an empire but it shouldn’t think along those lines. During the British rule, India  adopted a colonial policy in South Asia. China and India should think of themselves as complements, not competitors, and focus on the welfare of their people. But unfortunately, they tend to understand each other as competitors, and a kind of tussle appears in Nepal. Nepal shouldn’t be a yam between two boulders, but a vibrant bridge between two vibrant economies.

Has the rivalry between India and China affected Nepal’s development?

The Indian psyche is such that it considers itself insecure if any power increases its activities in the south of the Himalayas. India has that mentality. Similarly, China is sensitive that instability in Tibet might come from south of the Himalayas. There’s a third factor as well. Western powers want to keep some kind of a foothold between two giant economies and they take up interventionist roles. As a result, Nepal appears to be in a triangular contention. If we want to truly maintain our national sovereignty, we should be capable of moving forward and manage this triangular contention.

Given the previous imbalance, and the rise of China, many say we should expand our relationship with China. Your views?

Given the way China is rising as an economic great-power, it’d be mutually beneficial if we could expand our economic relationship. But a qualitative change in relationship is not possible: at the moment only about 10-15 percent of our trade is with China, whereas about 65 percent of it is with India. So my perspective is that we should adopt a policy of establishing a balanced relationship between China and India to develop our infrastructure. For historical reasons, in the early stages, our ties with India will be stronger. That’s why I’ve wanted to have agreements like BIPPA with both India and China. The goal for us is to attract inv-estment from both countries for rapid economic growth, and keep a balanced relationship. I believe only then will Nepal’s nationalism be protected.

Have you noticed increased Chinese engagement in Nepal?

It’s natural for a rising power like China to make public its concerns. I don’t think the Chinese interest has grown in an unnatural way. For historical reasons, our traditional relationship with China has been weak. That has grown quantitatively, but not qualitatively. Today, our dependency is toward the south and that’ll continue to be the case for some time. For that reason, we shouldn’t be alarmed by a small, quantitative change in the level of China’s engagement.

Tibet obviously is a big issue for China. Has the Nepal government been in a dilemma as to how to address Nepal’s international obligations simultaneously with China’s security interests?

China is naturally sensitive about Tibet and has security concerns. We have to give those concerns a  priority, especially because they come from a big power and a neighbour. It’s not in our interest to anger China or to arouse its suspicions. If some of them [Tibetans] are genuine refugees, and are proven to be so after investigation, we have to recognise them as such. If they’re not real refugees and come here because of economic crimes or other reasons, or because they are deceived into coming here, then we don’t have to recognise them as refugees.

Finally, there is a lot of public resentment against covert operations carried out in Nepal in the name of foreign policy. Your views?

In today’s interconnected world, you can’t completely stop overt and covert activities by international power centres. But we cannot accept any activities that are in violation of domestic and international laws.



Via: The Kathmandu Post

Published Date: Saturday, August 25th, 2012 | 02:08 AM

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