Print Edition - 2015-08-16  |  Free the Words

People-to-people diplomacy

  • Shrestha’s book gives insight into the Nepali diaspora living in China
- Bhim Udas

Aug 15, 2015-

Diplomatic relations between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Nepal was established in August 1955. However, the social, religious and business relations between the two countries have existed since a long time before that. The habitation in Kathmandu started when Bodhisatwo Manjushree came to Nepal and drained the water of the valley by cutting the gorge of Chovar. Lord Buddha—who was born in Lumbini, Nepal, in 563 BC—enriched Buddhism in China and East-Asian countries through Tibet. Buddhism spread in China after Faxian’s visit to Lumbini. Buddhist scholar Buddhabhadra—who spent 20 years in China in the 4th century AD—followed that visit. Relations strengthened when Princess Bhrikuti—daughter of King Anshubarma—got married with the Tibetan king Songtsän Gampo in 639 AD. Nepali Artist Araniko went to China and built pagoda-style stupas and monasteries in the 13th century AD. The Golden Monastery in Tibet and the White Pagoda in Beijing remain symbols of friendship between Nepal and China.

The northern neighbour

Over the last 60 years, diplomatic relations between the two countries have been cordial, meaningful and supportive of each other—both in the domestic and international arena. Nepal’s strong and outstanding support of China—in the United Nations General Assembly and the Non-aligned Movement for their inclusion; in the elimination of the Khampa rebels from Nepal’s territory in the 1960s; for the ‘One China Policy’—reflects this ethos. Similarly, China’s support is also evident—they endorsed Nepal’s proposal for the ‘Zone of Peace’ in 1975; they still offers development assistance and trade facilities.

Hiranya Lal Shrestha—an expert in international relations, a prominent writer, an academic and a political activist—wrote his book ‘Sixty years of Dynamic Partnership’ on the occasion of the diamond jubilee of diplomatic relations between China and Nepal. The ambitious book—edited by Prem Kumari Pant (President of the Nepal-China Society)—seeks to highlight the significance of the Nepal-China bilateral relations since August 1955.

Nepalis in China

This book gives insight into the Nepali diaspora living in China. As narrated in the book, the first Non-Resident Nepali (NRN) was Buddhist scholar Buddhabhadra, who lived in China from 409-429 AD. He was followed by Newar merchants from Kathmandu valley for business purposes in Lhasa in the 7th century AD, after the marriage of Princess Bhrikuti, who was crowned a ‘Green Star’ (Hariyo Tara) in Tibet. Newars expanded their trade during the early Malla period (1100-1480 AD), and it was later formalised when Nepal and Tibet signed a treaty in 1645, after the Sino-Nepal war, which allowed Newar merchants to run 32 business houses in Lhasa. The author has presented an informative account of Nepalis currently living in Mainland China and in other territories. After the Global NRN Association was established in 2003, Nepalis living in Beijing and Guangzhou formed a China chapter of the NRN National Coordination Council (NCC) in 2005. Since then, this organisation has been coordinating with all members of the Nepali community living in China, and it has maintained good relations with the provincial and central authorities. The association recently contributed to earthquake victims by providing cash and supplying cooked Nepali food.

Since the 1970s, Nepalis started going to Hong Kong as part of the Gurkha regiment of the British Army. After Hong Kong became an autonomous region of Mainland China, Nepalis started going there for business purposes. Currently, they form about 0.5 per cent of the total population. Hong Kong established its NRN-NCC chapter in August 2004. They have been contributing to Nepal’s economic and social development and have also done much for the country during calamities and emergencies.

Nepalis have also had presence in Macau— especially in the service sector—since it joined Mainland China. Their number is growing every year, and they formed the Macau chapter of the NRN-NCC in October 2007.  

In Taiwan, Nepalis have been doing business for quite some time now, and there are also students pursuing higher education there. Some Nepali Buddhist monks are quite influential in the local community because of their engagement in monasteries. Although the number of Nepalis is small, (just over 500) they have made significant contributions in Taiwan through their work. They formed the Taiwan chapter of the NRN-NCC in November 2008.   

Possible opportunities

There is a growing interest to develop people-to-people relationship between China and Nepal. A sister-city relationship was established between Pokahra and Linxie—of Tibet Autonomous Region—in October 2008; and between Pokhara and Kunming—capital city of Yunnan province of China—in January 2011. Similarly, another sister-city relationship was established between Dharan and Dejau—of Sangdung province—in September 2011. These relations have helped increase the number of Chinese tourists coming to Nepal significantly. In 2001, about 9,000 Chinese tourists came to Nepal, and this number increased to 90,000 in 2013—which is second to Indian tourists coming to Nepal. The number of Chinese is expected to increase more in the coming years. It is significant to note that so far, Nepal is the only country having direct air link between Kathmandu and Lhasa. It has provided a good opportunity for Nepali and foreign tourists to visit Tibet from Kathmandu.

Looking forward to Sino-Nepal relations, Shrestha has emphasized the formation of a China-India-Nepal trilateral dialogue mechanism to develop economic cooperation. This aspiration goes well with the current Chinese President Xi Jinping’s approach to promote regional cooperation by adopting a ‘Neighbour First’ policy, as well as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s similar policy following the Gujral doctrine adopted by India in 1997. For Nepal, it is the best time to actively work on the formation of this trilateral cooperation mechanism. It will tremendously help Nepal in: advancing hydropower development; enhancing the Lumbini circuit area development; increasing the number of Chinese tourists; increasing cross-border trade transiting through Nepal; enlarging development partnership; and decreasing trade deficit with both China and India within short period of time.

Udas is the Founder of the Non-Resident Nepali movement

Published: 16-08-2015 10:21

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