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Prof Dr Song Zhihui: Prioritizing better understanding between Chinese and Nepalis

Prof Dr Song Zhihui: Prioritizing better understanding between Chinese and Nepalis

Prof Dr Song Zhihui is the vice-dean at the School of International Studies of Sichuan University and the executive director of Institute of South Asian Studies, Sichuan University. Shristi Kafle spoke with him about various dimensions of Nepal-China relations in the context of geopolitics of South Asia. 

As you head the South Asian Center at Sichuan University, how do you see China’s interactions with South Asia? Where does Nepal stand?

Institute of South Asian Studies, Sichuan University (ISAS) was founded in 1964 under Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai’s instruction on enhancing the studies of foreign affairs. In 2001, ISAS was entitled as one of the key research bases for humanities and social sciences and one of key institutes for regional/state research in 2011. During the past 60 years, ISAS has been recognized as an effective and influential South Asian studies agency. ISAS enjoys the most complete collection of materials for South Asian studies in China and boasts its rich academic achievements. ISAS has been working closely with its counterparts in South Asian countries to not only promote academic research but also personnel exchanges. In recent years, especially after President Xi Jinping put forward the Belt and Road Initiative, we have attached much importance to work with South Asian countries to promote economic cooperation and people to people bonds. In this regard, Nepal stands at a very important position as it is the focus to connect China and South Asia. If you draw a circle around China and South Asia, you will find that Nepal stands at the very center.

What topics do you prioritize when it comes to South Asia and Nepal?

People to people bond is the top priority between China and other countries when it comes to cooperation under the framework of Belt and Road Initiative. There have been misunderstandings and rumors shortly after BRI was put forward. Even in South Asia, there were quite a few negative sayings about BRI. But especially after China started to invest in some countries in South Asia, it has actually brought benefits to the local people, though there was still stigmatization with debt trap. So, we attach much importance with mutual understanding, and better understanding with the people in every country. Of course, Nepal is our closest neighbor and we have a very long history of friendship and exchanges. But as the world is changing, and the western influence is deeply rooted there, we prioritize the better understanding between the peoples of China and Nepal, especially between younger generations of the two countries. That’s why we have hosted several training courses and exchange programs in Sichuan University with the aim to let them understand the real China.  

What are the latest activities and programs at the Center for Nepal Studies at Sichuan University.?

The Center for Nepal Studies at Sichuan University was established with the support of the Nepali Embassy in Beijing and the Consulate General of Nepal in Chengdu. The center not only engages in academic research on Nepal and China-Nepal relations, but it also makes efforts to promote personnel exchanges and even trade and investment, etc. Last year, we had a very hot season of bilateral relationship between the two countries, we not only organized field study trips to Nepal, but also received visitors from Nepal. We also organized a very important joint seminar and two training courses in Sichuan University. We established the first Nepalese Students of Sichuan Universality Alumni in Kathmandu. This year, we will continue to receive Nepali students with BRI Scholarships. We also want to organize more trips to Nepal to understand Nepal better, to see the beautiful scenes, to enjoy the rich culture and to taste the delicious food.  

How is the Center for Nepal Studies cooperating with the Nepali universities? What are its engagements?

We have been very effectively working with Tribhuvan University during the past years. We also have collaboration with other universities such as Kathmandu University, etc. We not only engage in joint academic research, but also in student exchanges. Besides, we have been actively cooperating with the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

When it comes to research and academic cooperation, which areas are mostly being prioritized?

We have been primarily working on joint research and conduction of disaster management and rebuilding during the past years, as Sichuan Province and Nepal share similar geographic situations and both suffered from serious earthquakes. Meanwhile, we also organized several training courses on management, governance and poverty alleviation with the young provincial leaders from Nepal. There is a huge scope to cooperate in different sectors.

How about the annual exchange programs of students and professors between the two countries?

The exchange programs between Sichuan University and Tribhuvan University were going very well before the Covid-19 pandemic. It was halted due to the pandemic. However, during the three years of pandemic, we still had  online seminars and lectures. Now that the pandemic is gone, we are restarting our exchange programs gradually, and we are hoping to expand the exchange programs with more universities in Nepal.

How can academic cooperation contribute to Sino-Nepal bilateral relations?

Academic cooperation is the most important way to promote the relationship between the universities and research institutes from the two countries which are playing crucial roles. They can not only provide good and constructive ideas to the various level governments, but also assist entrepreneurs and investors to boost their business, they also help peoples from both countries to understand each other. Academic cooperation is so important that it is not enough to express the contributions to the bilateral relations with words.

What could be the role of such cooperation for China’s Belt and Road Initiative?

The Belt and Road Initiative is the greatest idea to build the shared future for mankind. It has been widely accepted by the international community. It is not only an evident proof to China’s efforts in deepening reform and expanding opening up in the new era, but also a concrete action of China to strengthen international cooperation and improve global governance. The cooperation between China and Nepal has presented a satisfactory answer sheet and best example for the world since it was proposed. I am sure things will be moving ahead in a positive tone and will yield greater benefits to the country and people.