“There is only friendship and cooperation between China and Nepal, and there are no problems,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said at a state dinner at the Soaltee Hotel on October 12. In today’s international relations, it is not often that two neighbors do not have any problem.
In my view, the fundamental driving force of state-to-state relations today are national interests. That is why China and the US were able to normalize their bilateral relations in the face of an aggressive Soviet Union in the 1970s. It also explains why the US, which always crows about democracy and freedom, views unelected monarchs as its strongest allies in the Middle East. From this point of view, it would be much easier to understand the friendship between China and Nepal.
Perhaps I am not entirely correct. But in my limited understanding, the most important thing for Nepali people is the continuous improvement in their living standards. Of course, other things are also important, but without economic well-being, everything else is a bubble.
Often I have sat alone on the stone steps of the Durbar Square, looking at the great medieval buildings shining at sunset and feeling the past glory of this great country. Looking at those countless wood and stone carvings, I cannot help but wonder about how much manpower and material resources they needed. It may take a skilled carpenter a week to make a beam full of reliefs. But how formidable were the logistical challenges? It perhaps took 1,000 craftsmen to build the entire square, over 100 or more years. The country that created such great buildings must have been powerful.
The world changed overnight when the westerners completed the Industrial Revolution. The unfortunate fact is that the once-mighty Nepal is now one of the least developed countries in the world. Countless scholars have reflected on possible reasons. According to my superficial understanding, a modern country’s fundamental power comes from its industrial production capacity. But due to Nepal’s geographical limitations, it has been unable to have large-scale industries.
Raw materials cannot be easily transported into Nepal, nor can its products be easily exported. Worse, traditional agricultural production has been unable to feed a growing population. As a result, more and more Nepali youths are going abroad for work, instead of building their homeland. Do they not love their country? I don’t think so. But there is nothing wrong with them seeking a better future either. This is a real tragedy.
There is a saying in China: “Build roads before you can get rich.” Without sorting out the challenges of Nepal’s external connections, Nepal’s development problems will not change fundamentally. I may sound a little extreme, but I believe that the so-called “democracy and freedom” cannot solve the fundamental problems of Nepal’s development. In Nepal, there seems to be enough time to quarrel in the parliament and protest on the streets, but not to build roads and other vital infrastructures.
Over the past 40 years, under the CPC leadership, the Chinese people have achieved remarkable success in socialist construction. Many countries are encountering problems in the course of their development. To solve these problems, the Chinese people have also made contributions, in the form of their labor and wisdom. President Xi Jinping has put forward the concept of “Building a community with a shared future for mankind”. China’s goal under the BRI framework of building a “three-dimensional connectivity network across the Himalayas” will help Nepal transform itself from a “land-locked” to a “land-linked” country.
Perhaps some readers will say: “All this talk is propaganda. Isn’t China also acting in its own national interest?” Of course, any country’s foreign policy serves its own interests, and China is no exception. But the point is that China’s interests are aligned with Nepal's.
First, Nepal is an important neighbor of China. So the Chinese want Nepalis to live in a high-quality society rather than only building luxury places in their homeland.
Second, stability and development go hand in hand. On the one hand, development is impossible without a stable social environment. On the other, if the society cannot develop sustainably, people’s living standards cannot be improved and social stability is undermined. For example, Nepal has had 10 governments in the past 10 years. As an important neighbor, Nepal’s prosperity is good for China. I cannot think of any counterexamples. China therefore hopes it can help Nepal realize the goal of “prosperous Nepal, happy Nepalis”.
Third, and more realistically, if Nepal falls into the trap of poverty and unrest, China’s national interests, especially its national security, will also be threatened. Poverty and unrest will weaken Nepal’s sovereignty and lead to more foreign involvement. Perhaps some countries will use Nepal’s territory against China. Of course, no country would publicly admit to doing any of these, but the possibility cannot be ruled out. If helping Nepal become stable and developed can reduce this possibility, why not?
China-Nepal relations are rich and multi-dimensional. What I want to emphasize here though is that it is not only the members of the CPC and the NCP who are comrades, but also the people of China and Nepal. This is the foundation of China-Nepal relations, rooted in protecting shared national interests. Nepal-China friendship, Jindabad!
The author is chief correspondent of the Kathmandu office of Shanghai Wen Hui Daily. He has a Master’s in International Relations