KATHMANDU: I had attended the two-day Nepal China Think Tank conference recently in Kathmandu and the statements I heard from Chinese thinkers, professors and intellectuals startled me. They clearly said that China would no longer be the ‘outsider’ and ‘passive neighbour’ for Nepal.

The northern neighbour raised the issue of the 2015 blockade and the unfair treatment by India towards Nepal. The crowd applauded the speakers. The Chinese representatives stressed on the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative and how it would help Nepal. Their only agenda for Nepal is two-fold: a) Nepal should always uphold One-China policy (which means it shouldn’t let Tibetan activists take a foothold in Nepal) and b) Nepal should consider the fact that China pushes for economic share (which means it wants to see Nepal develop and gradually challenge India).

On the other hand, India has always hidden behind the agendas and policies of making Nepal dependent on it. These two different approaches have signaled a debate in the Nepali press. What should be the priority of Nepal’s foreign policy? How should Nepal deal with this geopolitical quandary?

Chen Xiaochen, deputy director General of Department of International Studies of Renmin University, said, “OBOR has five pillars: policy, infrastructure, trade, investment, and people to people exchange. It looks into policy development, trade, and investment so the people of Nepal will greatly benefit from it. Moreover, it is not the propaganda of China but its plans are to bring changes and make a new world. So we have to be both idealistic and realistic to make the new world.” He diplomatically added that the friendship between China and Nepal can be higher than Mt. Everest and deeper than the Indian Ocean. The crowd clapped merrily—forgetting the close ties with India.

In the conference ‘OBOR’, economic diplomacy, and trilateral trade were the highlights. It was, however, the first time that Chinese delegates were so vocal about their lack of involvement in Nepal’s policies and politics. As usual, the delegates continued to insist that China only wishes for the economic development of Nepal, but they stressed on One-China policy and didn’t talk about Tibet, Taiwan or the South China Sea dispute at all. It is a known fact that those associated with Communist Party of China (CPC) do not talk recklessly in public without the orders from the party per se. This only suggests that the Chinese delegates were clearly given orders to ‘what to say, and what not to say.’

Executive Deputy Director of Institute of South Asian Studies at Sichuan University, Li Tao, said, “Nepal can profit from equal distance diplomacy by roping in both China and India. On the other hand, China understands that Nepal suffers from India’s hegemony and the OBOR is a good opportunity for Nepal to become independent and establish itself as a peaceful state. China is always with the support of Nepal to make it a stable and progressive state. Nepal has to understand that China doesn’t have similar interests that of U.S., Japan, India and other nations. Nepal doesn’t have to take a side but takes into interests of India in consideration to a certain extent. Also, Nepal as a neighbor of China is safe and secure. Both China and India has mobility in Nepal in terms of economy and development. It is a known fact that China follows the ideology of non-interference. China is willing to establish a strong transit treaty and make the nation a gateway of OBOR for South Asia. Nepal will gain immense benefits from the OBOR initiative. In order to develop a shared Himalaya civilization, it is important to develop bilateral, trilateral, and unilateral relations to transform Nepal from a yam to bridge.”

The problem in the aforementioned quote is that Nepal cannot trust China fully and nationally there’s an ongoing debate that PM Dahal is trying to maintain a balanced relationship between two neighboring giants.

Chinese delegates made it clear that China is not going to remain silent anymore regarding Nepal. China is already stepping up its game, while India is rethinking its strategy.

Di Fangyao, Deputy Director of Institute of South Asia, Xizang Minzu University of China, optimistically said, “I think the China-Nepal-India corridor is of a great importance to China. I believe Nepal will gain the upper hand from the corridor and it will also have a positive influence in India. However, India doesn’t rank high in economic ranking yet so the construction of economic corridor will benefit not only India but Nepal too. The economic corridor will bring successful stories to both India and Nepal. I think it will bring significant changes to South Asia and South East Asia in whole. The corridor will definitely pull out millions of people out of poverty. We believe that favorable conditions will affect the trilateral corridor. Tibet is a special place to connect Nepal and China. Also, the closer relations between China and Nepal have led to positive causes. And the positive attitude of PM Modi is good news for the corridor. Most importantly, building the corridor embodies tolerance, mutual respect, and friendship. China, Nepal, and India should make effort in making mutual relations and help Nepal to leapfrog economic stagnation and poverty. Nepal should be confident to use the economic growth of China and India.”

India has clearly snubbed the idea of trilateral trade and relationship, while China is getting agitated with the lackluster of the incumbent Nepal government, expressing displeasure publicly that Nepal is not fulfilling its promise of implementing the trade transit agreement and OBOR.

(Arun Budhathoki is the Nepal Editor for The Citizen, India)