China wants friendship with Nepal, but not at the cost of ties with India

MP Rabindra Adhikari is a member of Prime Minister KP Oli’s delegation to visit China. Onlinekhabar contacted Adhikari to ask him how the Chinese have reacted to recent developments in Indo-Nepal relations.

You are in Beijing at the moment. What has been the Chinese stance on Indo-Nepal relations?

The Chinese are cautious about India’s concerns while Beijing deepens ties with Nepal. They are not going to ignore India’s concerns to sign any deal with Nepal. They think that this is in Nepal’s interest as well.

The link road concept, which the Chinese have proposed, needs cooperation from China’s neighbours. The Chinese understand that if its neighbours are not strong and developed, there would be no meaning in it being the only strong and developed country in the region.

That is why China wants to cooperate with as many countries in the region possible and help them develop economically. China keeps this in mind when it conducts its ties with India also .

Did they (the Chinese) speak their mind in unambiguous terms?

During the course of our conversation, they were alluding to this. They want to develop the Silk Road which will connect countries like Bangladesh with Africa and Europe.

Until two decades ago, Sino-Indian trade was not significant. But in the past few years, volume of trade between the two countries has increased. China also gives importance to its trade with India.

The inter-country corridor project, which involves both India and Nepal, is also a priority for India. I think the Chinese are in favor of Nepal’s development.

What are China’s concerns in Nepal?

The only special concern they have is about Nepal’s One-China policy. They want Nepal to remain committed to it. They do not want betterment of ties with Nepal to have bearing on their relations with India. During this visit, their focus was on the One Belt, One Road project. They want it to be completed within 2050.

What was their interest in development projects in Nepal?

I think its hydropower. They have said that they are ready to help build projects, and look for market.

But during the course of the visit, not a single hydropower project deal was signed. Why so?

We have talked to them in detail about hydro. Budhi Gandaki, Arun III and other rivers are being discussed. The issue of hydropower and roads will figure in the joint statement, which will be issued soon. The Chinese are in no mood to sign any agreement which has not been thoroughly prepared.

For any agreement to take place, the infrastructure, the legal provisions and logistics need to be manged first. Instead of going forward in haste, we should conduct detailed studies and explorations, that is what the Chinese are saying.

When news came that Nepal and China have signed a transit treaty, this issue was given utmost importance by the Indian media. Does India have reasons to be alarmed>

The agreement is a big deal. The Chinese believe that China cannot develop without deepening ties with India. Now India should also understand that it can develop only when its neighbours are prosperous. India cannot go at it alone.

The Chinese want bilateral ties with Nepal to improve. But Indians have no reason to be alarmed by this. We have our right to transit, which has been recognised internationally. We have no obligation to just use Indian territory for trade with the outside world. When it comes to a deal on import of fuel, an agreement will be signed after everyone is well prepared for it.

But Nepal did not sign a petroleum deal with China. Why so?

The important thing here is that we have a deal with the Indian Oil Corporation. The conditions are such that it is not possible to get all the fuel we need from China. That is why for now, India is where we need to get our fuel from. We need to inform the IOC 60 days in advance, if we are to sign another import deal. We do not want to do that.

What will we do if there is another blockade? 

That is a different issue. If India imposes a blockade, we have created conditions under which we can import fuel from a third country via China. Now we do not need to rely only on India. But there are many things that need to be resolved before we can actually do that. That is why the Chinese have exercised lot of restraint and shown maturity.

Even if we sign a fuel deal, we are not sure which route to use, and which border crossing to utilise. All these things need to be finalised.

So the Chinese explicitly told you not to spoil ties with India?

It is not possible for us to ignore India and side with China. We need to address the concerns of both Indian and China. The ties between Indian and China have advanced so rapidly that nothing is going to happen just because we want it to happen. There are opportunities for us to promote trilateral cooperation. We should make full use of this.

We need a balanced approach. We should not side with China when our ties with India deteriorate, and the same goes for India. We are heavily dependent on India.

What was China’s take on Madhesh?

China’s concern is Nepal’s overall development. It is wrong that China should be involved only in the hills and India in the planes. China is concerned equally about both the hills and Madhesh. But Nepal needs to give special considerations to their security concerns.

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