“Nepal has a peculiar location, stuck between India and China, where India is an elephant and China is a dragon. But remember when dragon flies, elephant can just stand and watch”, clearly illustrates the sentiments of the Nepalese towards their location between the two economic giants.
Omnipresent China cannot be ignored in South Asia. While it is supporting Pakistan in its nuclear mission, Sri Lanka in building ports, and Nepal with low cost goods, its mere presence could be an opportunity for the growth, primarily economic, of the entire region. Given the geographic proximity and rising economic power, it is a voice for smaller countries like Nepal which cannot speak strongly because of their poor economic status. With no interference in political issues, China’s role is focused just on the economic development. Today, China has made it possible for the poor to consume sufficient daily goods at affordable costs.
Looking at the flip side, while China is an opportunity in the trade sector, it is a threat to the industrial sector. Domestic industries will collapse if China continues inordinate supply of its cheap goods. Cultural differences, economy monopoly and flooding the market with low quality products create suspicions about China’s role. China’s presence in the region can pose a threat in two ways: suppression of Tibetan communities and possibility of war with India. China’s direct/indirect approach is to minimize India’s influence and establish its economic hegemony. Given that India considers China as manipulating the South Asian market, China’s presence might be a threat from Indian perspective. Also, India fears increasing bilateral cooperation between China and Nepal. For Nepal, the country is small and poor. Nepal’s needs cannot be fulfilled by one country alone. For ruling people of India, their perception about China in Nepal is coming very aggressively and on the other hand, China thinks that Nepal is under the policy guidance from India. Nepal can actually make weakness of ‘India – China relations’ as its strength. There are two very big markets within arm’s reach for Nepal. India and China have been experiencing double digit growth but there is no spill over effect in Nepal, given the domestic political instability. India and China need to change their perception and acknowledge the fact that Nepal is an independent country. The result is such that, as long as China is there, India won’t be ready to come to the forefront. While China could be considered as “a slow poison” to region’s economy, it’s time to realize that considering outside forces as threat is a stigma; stumbling block to cooperation. What matters is the capacity to tap the knowledge and engage in a constructive relationship. World cannot prosper without readiness to learn from, and respect one another. Nepalese can not wait till India becomes capable to engage at similar levels, comparable to China.
Strategy of political control and economic balance makes China’s presence hard to go unrecognized. It depends on our dealing capacity and our own policies on how to use this to our advantage. China is neither a threat nor an opportunity. China is rising in the world as an economic giant and we bilaterally or collectively need to collaborate with China to help our economy grow. We better befriend China and invest in our own unity so that our regional cooperation is no longer prone to be impacted by rising influence of outside forces. China is a huge entity in the world, and we, including India are afraid of what it does. Let’s agree that it is a capital market and a source of infinite resources. It’s time to stop thinking about China and get our own house in order first.
The question remains – while India continues to be under a geopolitical dilemma, is China running fast on the geo-strategic chessboard?