Nepal, The Next Front
In recent months, a new issue has cropped up between Delhi and Beijing: the presence of Chinese soldiers in POK. Already a few months back, Selig Harrison, a US journalist posted in Delhi in the 1950’s, wrote an Op-Ed in The New York Times “informing” India that Chinese troops were roaming around Gilgit-Baltistan, legally a part of Indian territory.
Harrison affirmed: “Reports from a variety of foreign intelligence sources, Pakistani journalists and Pakistani human rights workers, reveal two important new developments in Gilgit-Baltistan. A simmering rebellion against Pakistani rule and the influx of an estimated 7,000 to 11,000 soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).”
At that time, Delhi kept quiet, probably to not offend Beijing. But recently Lt Gen KT Parnaik, the Northern Army Commander confirmed China’s military presence in POK and warned: “China’s links with Pakistan through POK facilitated quicker deployment of Pakistani forces to complement the Communist neighbour’s military operations, outflanking India and jeopardising its security.”
Beijing reacted quickly: The Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Hong Lei denied the presence of PLA troops in POK.
As worrisome, though less publicised, is the large number of Chinese soldiers in Nepal. A friend recently sent me several pictures taken in a small mountain village of Nepal. Apparently the Chinese were not too happy to be photographed, they hid their faces. What is Delhi doing about this? The External Affairs Minister will probably say that South Block is closely monitoring the situation.
Though the BRICS reiterated their resolve to see the Libyan crisis solved through “peaceful means and dialogue” and to “avoid the use of force”, there was serious (and interesting) difference of emphasis between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Chinese President Hu Jintao.
While the Indian PM asked his BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) colleagues to remember that recent events in the Arab world “represented a shift of power to the ordinary citizen”, Hu spoke of the importance of respecting national sovereignties: “Internal affairs of a country should be handled independently by the country itself. …We should respect the sovereignty of all countries and their right to choose their development paths and models.”
The truth behind “the right to choose one’s development paths” is that the present regime in Beijing is absolutely allergic to democracy.
Even though since ancient times, democracy has been acknowledged as the best way to get the “masses” to participate in the governance of a village, a town, a county or a nation, the communist has never liked it; Beijing believes that it is a “Western invention”. However, this is historically wrong, India knew about democracy before Ancient Greece; it is said that Suddhodana, Gautam Buddha’s father was an elected raja and thousands of small republics had flourished at that time in the subcontinent.
A telling incident occurred on February 13 in Nepal. Elections were organised to elect a new Tibetan Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister) for all Tibetan refugees living in exile. It was to be held in Kathmandu for the refugees living in the Himalayan Kingdom.
In the past, the process was peacefully conducted, but the last time the Chinese asked the Nepali police to “forcefully shut down these local elections”.
Radio Free Asia reported: “The seizure of the ballot box from the Boudha district, one of three areas where voting was held and raided by the police, came four months after Nepali armed police blocked thousands of Tibetan exiles in Kathmandu from voting for a new government-in-exile. They forcibly confiscated the ballot boxes after storming into three voting centres in the capital, home to almost 9,000 Tibetan exiles, as the elections were held.”
Interestingly, the local police at first did not object to the voting. The booths had been open since an hour, when riot police arrived and arrested the Tibetan voters present; they were later taken away for detention. Why this sudden change of mind? One can easily guess.
Ironically, Maria Otero, the US Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, who is also the special coordinator for Tibetan issues in the Obama’s Administration was in the capital that day; she had visited the Tibetan Refugee Transit Centre in Kathmandu and met Nepali government and UN officials.
Though Otero pledged continued US support for the safety and welfare of Tibetan refugees in Nepal, saying that she would carry their message back to Washington, the Chinese did not seem to care much for the American feelings.
Ditto for the Europeans. On April 7, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the “ban” on the Tibetan elections in Nepal.
German MEP Thomas Mann who is the Chairman of the European Parliament’s cross-party Intergroup on Tibet declared: “Freedom of speech and the right to vote are universal human rights. Nepal must not give in to pressure from Beijing and must allow Tibetans in the country to exercise their right to vote for their government in exile”.
The Resolution calls on the Nepalese authorities to “refrain from preventive arrests and restrictions on demonstrations and freedom of speech” of the Tibetan community in Nepal and urges Kathmandu to include these basic rights as well as the freedom of religion in the country’s new constitution, due to be enacted by May 28, 2011.
But Beijing is not bothered by the EU Resolutions. Practically, right now, there is only one article in the new Nepali Constitution, “Follow the orders from Beijing”.
It was clear when General Chen Bingde, the Chief of General Staff of the PLA (and member of the Central Military Commission) visited Nepal on March 23.
Chhatra Man Singh Gurung, Chen Bingde’s Nepali counterpart kowtowed, welcoming the visit of Chen Bingde, he said: “For years, the bilateral relations of China and Nepal enjoyed smooth development and the military exchanges in various fields were constantly strengthened. The Nepalese side thanks the Chinese side for its equal treatment and sincere assistance, and is pleased about China’s peaceful development and prosperity. The Nepalese side is willing to make joint efforts with the Chinese side to further deepen friendly relations between the two militaries.”
On his own, Gurung reiterated, “The Nepalese government will firmly support the one-China policy and is committed to crack down on the Tibetan separatists in Nepal. It will not allow any person to engage in the activities of splitting China in Nepal.”
The Chinese general did not even have to pronounce the ‘T’ world, Gurung did it for him. Chen Bingde had just to affirm: “The Sino-Nepalese friendship had withstood the tests of changes of international situation and changes of respective countries, thus it became the common wealth of the two peoples. In recent years, the relations between the two militaries have achieved gratifying results, which played an important and positive role in promoting the comprehensive development of bilateral relations and ensuring security and social stability of respective countries.”
On April 11, a Nepal-Tibet border security meeting was held in Khasa, at the Nepal-Tibet border (near the so-called “Friendship Bridge”).
According to a communiqué issued in Nepal: “During the meeting, officials of the two nations agreed to coordinate with each other on security affairs.”
The Chief of the Tatopani Immigration Office, Bijaya Poudel told the press that the Nepali officials agreed to curb the anti-Chinese activities in Nepal, and hand over Tibetans entering Nepal to the Chinese officials.
You may think that the Chinese are really tough with the Nepalese, forcing them to suppress or arrest Tibetans refugees, but it is not what Beijing feels: their ambassador to Nepal, Qiu Guohong has been recalled because he has been “too weak”.
On March 27, The Himalayan Times reported: “The Government of China has recalled its ambassador to Nepal, Qiu Guohong, a highly placed source said. Qiu, who had taken charge for two years and four months, pulled out from Nepal just eight months before the expiry of his normal three-year tenure.”
The Nepali newspaper added that according to its sources, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs was dissatisfied with Qiu “due to his weak diplomacy to neutralise anti-Chinese activities in Nepal.”
What would have happened had Mr Qui been tough? One dares to not contemplate.
By Claude Arpi