Chinese President Xi Jinping is paying an official visit to Nepal in the immediate future. RSS reporters Sanchita Ghimire and Sharad Sharma talked to former Minister for Foreign Affairs Mahendra Bahadur Pandey in this context. The excerpts of the interview:
1. How has been the Nepal-China relation from the past till the present?
– The relations between Nepal and China started since ancient times. The bilateral ties with China have started since Tsrong Tsang Gonpo, Bhrikuti and Amsuverma’s time. Bhrikuti, a princess of Nepal was married off to Tsrong Tsanag Gonpo, which is a political type of marriage. It is also said this marriage was done to improve the diplomatic relations. This marriage too has contributed to consolidating the bilateral ties between the two countries. The relations between the two countries were equally cordial during the Lichhavi and Malla period as well. Nepal and China have economic relations too since that time. Nepal brought goods including salt from Tibet. Until some time back woollen rugs used to be brought here from Tibet. A dispute over on which side (Nepal or China) Mt. Everest summit was situated emerged between the two countries in 2016 BS. This dispute has been amicable resolved now. This problem was resolved after discussions between the government representatives of Nepal and China. The ties between the two countries have been becoming stronger now.
2. Why has Nepal not been able to take adequate benefit from its relations with China?
– We should learn from the development taking place in China including technology among other sectors. As the saying goes, we should learn how to catch fish from them not become dependent on them for fish. Many industries were opened in Nepal in the past with the assistance from Russia and China. However, these industries and factories were sold off or privatized in the name of liberal economic policy. China has been developing Tibet as well. But we lag behind talking in terms of facilities. China wants that its development should not be impeded and that its relations with neighbours are also strengthened and cordial. The mutual relation between Nepal and China is moving ahead with one respecting the other.
3. What are the benefits that Nepal can take from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)?
– It is said even now that Nepal’s northern and southern neighbours are moving ahead in terms of development and that Nepal should take advantage of this. Benefit is not achieved by making speeches or harping on it alone, we should make programme if we are to take benefit from BRI. We should increase our production, should take their technology and learn from them. Our education and health should progress. The National Planning Commission should make a plan in this regard. The plan should be moved ahead in a way that it makes the people stronger. BRI is a new concept brought by China being based on the ancient Silk Road. Looking at it so far, the Army has not been used in this project. Nepal being a member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), we do not become involved in any military activities. The biggest thing in this project is that it is aimed at developing the economy and cordial relations. It is about improving ties and establishing connectivity with all countries of the world. We also signed an agreement related to it from the start. Now we are working to expand connectivity. Discussions were held on opening three or four border transit points when the Chinese Foreign Minister visited Nepal. Many agreements would be reached in course of the President’s visit. Topics as construction of tunnel, road improvement and expansion have come up. China has its interest in road linking with China with the Kathmandu Valley and outside districts. This is also our need. There is no need for making comments about this. We should promote our national interest and learn from other countries in terms of social change, education, science and technology as well as other things.
4. How do you find our preparations in terms of BRI?
– I am confident that the government is working steadfastly on this. Our related Ministry is making preparations before the Chinese President arrives. All the related bodies should make preparations as per their capacity. The government bodies are working on this.
5. Why has Nepal not been able to pursue development as is taking place in China?
– We did not pay attention to areas in which China has progressed. We failed to give attention to what have been explored in China. We ourselves are not working in a planned manner even now which areas we need to explore. Presently we are engaged in debate and discussions. Research is not done by the political leaders and bureaucracy but the university professors should conduct research on what benefits we can take from China. We should find out what are the conclusions drawn by the research carried out at national and international level regarding BRI and figure out which one of these are suitable for Nepal. The suitable ones should be implemented. We are just beginning to work on this. The awareness has now increased in Nepali citizens now. We should now carry out research and exploration ourselves by incorporating the things in the study and research carried out in India, China, America, Europe and elsewhere.
6. Besides railway, tunnel and transmission line construction, road improvement and opening the transit points, what could be the other projects and agreements for collaboration?
– There is no other country in the world with the geographical situation like that of Nepal. We find all types of climate found in the world in Nepal. We have timber, medicinal herbs, fruits and food crop cultivation, all this here. We did not carry out research in these areas. We can involved in research in these areas together with China. We can carry out research in agriculture, production and take Chinese support to increase production accordingly by involving them. Another area in which we can seek Chinese support is establishing industries and enterprises based on agriculture resources. We can export the goods produced from these industries to China and other countries. In the energy sector as well, we can produce electricity taking the support from China and sell that energy. We send our students to China to study medicine and engineering. But although these subjects are studied they are not research-oriented. We should use the research-oriented studies undertaken in China here in Nepal. We can take help from China in technology and social change as well. China has produced citizens who are loyal to the nation through a certain type of schooling. We can learn from that as well. People’s thinking should be improved to make the nation stronger. we can learn from China in this aspect too.
7. What works were carried out to enhance the ties between Nepal and China when you were the minister?
– We were in the constitution-making phase when I was the minister. Because we were in constitution writing phase, we could not carry out many works despite our desire to do that. We focused on preparing for the SAARC summit and held the summit when I was the Minister for Foreign Affairs. China had participated in the SAARC summit as an observer. China has made commitment of its resources for strengthening SAARC. China is found positive regarding operating the SAARC University as well. Bilateral talks were held with Chinese Foreign Minister regarding trade. Discussions were held in the talks on topics such as how to make the trade balanced and how to strengthen the relations between the two countries. But our all attention was focused on constitution drafting. We could not do much concerned as we were that our attention should not be deviated to other things than making sure that the Constituent Assembly is not dissolved again. China has supported in many things even after the promulgation of the constitution. We can ask for support from China, India, America regarding the development of science and technology, and changing the society in a peaceful way through development and economy.
8. High-level visit is taking place from China at present. What does Nepal expect from this?
– We find that wherever Chinese President has visited, the tourism of that place has developed very well. He went to the Maldives, the Chinese tourists’ attraction to Maldives has increased. Similarly this has happened in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as well. With India also, their relations are becoming stronger. Trade and commerce of both countries has grown. Tourists also go there. Chinese intellectuals also visit India now. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has gone to China many times after becoming the Prime Minister. Chinese have said to me that tourists will visit my country and one million Chinese tourists coming is not a big deal. They have asked us to prepare the infrastructure for food and accommodation. One thing is that it contributes to the tourism sector. Another thing is Chinese are of the thinking that they would become prosperous with the cooperation of the neighbours if the neighbours can be gradually taken towards prosperity. The resources in the economic and tourism sectors could be identified and utilized after the President’s visit. This visit will contribute to education, health. Nepal will be on the sight of other friendly countries as well after Chinese President’s visit. This means that other countries’ cordial relations and cooperation would start to grow towards us. We should learn to take support in this aspect. Works should be as per our needs and desire, not theirs’. The rest of the friendly countries too will extend support to Nepal after the Chinese President’s visit. Nepal’s relations with China would be further cemented following the President’s visit. We should strive to build positive relations for the long term and not just for the short term. If we expand our relations in a positive way in a cordial environment with international organizations, the United Nations, regional cooperation organizations and G-20 and such other bodies, and if we practice our diplomacy in the right way, we will get their support and it will improve our economy. We can easily achieve the goal of graduating the country to the status of developing country in 2022 and of attaining the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030—RSS