In what amounts to China enlarging its military footprint in Nepal, the Chinese Army Chief, General Chen Bingde paid a three day visit to Nepal from March 23, 2011. The significance of the Chinese Army Chief’s visit to Nepal has to be viewed in terms of its timing and China’s intentions measured against the contextual situation prevailing in Nepal and its regional environment. Significantly, the visiting Chinese Army Chief did not confine himself to military matters but also ventured to state some gratuitous political advice to Nepal’s political leaders, something unprecedented.
The Indian policy establishment with its traditional obliviousness to events in Nepal having strategic implications for India was conspicuous by their silence. They could have used their favorite media channels and newspapers to mouth the implications of such Chinese military obtrusiveness in Nepal, a region of intense strategic importance to India. Need it be recalled from my earlier Columns how India gifted away Nepal to China’s strategic orbit by misperceived and ill-advised policy postures in Nepal since 2004. India thus gifted away to China the strategic buffer state of Nepal which kept China away directly from Indian borders for nearly two thousand kilometers.
The Chinese Army Chief’s visit in the third week of March 2011, in terms of timing occurred at a time when there is intense political struggle in Nepal on the question of integrating and rehabilitating some twenty thousand or so, armed Nepalese Maoists armed cadres into the Nepal Army. The Nepal Army too is sternly opposed to the integration of such cadres who had waged a civil war against the State for nearly a decade.
Politically Nepal today can be said to be in state of flux as a stable Government is yet to come into existence. Against such a political background the visiting Chinese Army Chief’s advice to Nepal’s political leaders that warring political groups in Nepal should work together towards political stability is significant.
It amounts to China’s assertion that China has a say in influencing and controlling the political dynamics of Nepal, a position that India enjoyed till lately. One has not seen any public comment from the Indian policy establishment on the Chinese assertion.
Strategically and politically, the Chinese Army Chief’s visit to Nepal needs to be viewed in relation to Tibet and the activities of the Tibetan exiles in Nepal who have become restless lately on being brutally suppressed by Nepal at Chinese behest. The Chinese Army Chief got the Nepalese Prime Minster to issue a statement that Nepal would not allow its territory to be used by Tibetan exiles for any anti-China activities.
Interestingly the Tibet question came to the fore during the Chinese Army Chief’s visit when the treatment of Tibetan refugees in Nepal came into international focus. The US Under Secretary of State for Democracy& Global Affairs had in the preceding weeks visited Nepal to voice US concerns for the rights of Tibetan refugees in Nepal
Militarily, a leading media personality of Nepal has opined that China seems to be investing heavily in the Nepal Army and its military hierarchy as having lost the abolished monarchy as a Chinese ally, China views the Nepal Army as the only viable strong institution destined to play a leading role in Nepal’s affairs. China as in Pakistan wishes to cultivate the Nepal Army as a loyal Chinese Army.
Militarily, the Chinese Army Chief signed agreements with the Nepal Army Chief as opposed to the Defense Minister for the $19 million aid for Chinese military aid to Nepal. The Chinese Army Chief is also learnt to have stressed greater training interaction between the Chinese Army and the Nepal Army.
Regrettably once again one does not witness any matching initiatives by the Indian policy establishment not to lose further strategic space in Nepal to China. The Indian policy establishment still has not woken up to reclaim Nepal as India’s strategic asset as discussed by me in an earlier Column on the subject.
Nepal Must Be Reclaimed as an India-Friendly State
Nepal’s Political Stability is an Indian Strategic Imperative
Nepal Going Red Endangers India's National Security
India MUST NOT Lose Nepal to the Maoists
India should Checkmate The Maoists in Nepal
India's Strategically Unwise Nepal Policy