border review | 15 July 2011

Bhavna Singh on China's Nepal Focus

Bhavna Singh on the high-profile appointment of Yang Houlan as China’s ambassador to Nepal and the police crack-down on the celebration of the Dalai Lama’s birthday last week.

The major thrust for this move comes from the fact that the previous plenipotentiaries in Nepal have been unable to bring about expected results in terms of Nepal’s adherence to the one-China policy. In fact the previous few years have witnessed an escalation in anti-China protests by Tibetan activists undeterred by the Nepalese authorities. However, just the nature of high level focus by China has prompted Nepal to toe the Chinese line. What past ambassadors could not achieve happened within a month of the new ambassador’s appointment. First, at least a dozen Tibetan exiles gathered to celebrate a religious event were detained and then around 800 Tibetans who had gathered to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday at the local Namgyal Middle Boarding School at Swoyambhu, Kathmandu were dispersed and some of them were arrested as well.

Although playing hard on Tibetan refugees to please China is not a new development but has rather been a common pattern since 2008, raiding a birthday party takes it indeed to a new level. What strikes me is how easily the argument that Nepal is too weak to resist Chinese demands seems to go down. China repeatedly reassured the world that she would never interfere in the internal matters of other countries. The issue of Tibetan refugees in Nepal does apparently not fall under this category.

The line between influence and interference is fuzzy, especially when power relations are so asymmetric. Remember the Chinese request to suspend ascent to Mt. Everest from the Nepal side in May 2008 in order to make sure that no Western expedition would unroll a Tibetan flag while a group of Chinese mountaineers were carrying the olympic torch to the summit? Just a neighbourly request or direct interference? Singh reminds us of that other story back in February 2011, when a recording was making the rounds in Kathmandu:

A 12-minute tape capturing a Chinese diplomat’s effort to bribe 50 Nepali legislators by offering US$ 6.9 million for help in forming a Maoist-led government that would favour China has already hampered public opinion towards China in Nepal.

(via Eurasia Review)