Not content with being an observer at SAARC, China has fielded top Nepalese politicians and diplomats to push for its membership at the eight-member grouping’s summit here.
While China’s Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Zhen Min will lead the delegation to SAARC, the Asia Pacific Daily, published by the Xinhua news agency’s Kathmandu bureau, has brought out a 12-page special edition for the 18th SAARC Summit in which at least three Nepal cabinet ministers and two former foreign ministers have supported Beijing’s case. Xinhua is China’s official news agency.
This comes days after China agreed to provide 10 million Yuan (US$ 1.63 million) annually, from 2014 to 2018, to help Nepal develop its northern districts bordering the Tibet Autonomous Region. According to the MoU, the funds will be spent on smallscale projects in the areas of health, education and road.
Plugging for Beijing’s “active” role in SAARC, the Asia Pacific Daily, priced at Rs 5, is being distributed to the delegates and press contingent attending the summit.
Consider these statements quoted in the publication:
* Nepal Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat: “It is good that China has got observer status. Over the course of time, it could become a full-fledged member. But at the moment, SAARC itself must be fully functional to pave the way for China’s entry into the community.”
* Nepal Foreign Minister Mahendra Bahadur Pandey: “If all SAARC members agree, Nepal will have no problems in making China a SAARC member. We have to respect the SAARC principles, the SAARC charter.”
* Nepal’s Minister for Information and Communications, Minendra Rijal: “China is a very important presence and enjoys good bilateral relations with almost every SAARC member. Bilateral relations should transcend far beyond the regional dimension, China being a leading global power.”
* Former Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey: “China’s active presence in SAARC will increase its importance and the speed of development in Asia. We should not keep China as an observer only.”
While membership for China is not a new demand, it has gained fresh traction at this year’s SAARC summit since Nepal is the host. In fact, China’s entry as an “observer” was linked by Nepal to Afghanistan’s inclusion as a “member”.
“China enjoys good bilateral relations with most member countries of SAARC and it will be in the interest of all to let it play an influential role,” Rijal, Nepal’s Minister for Information and government spokesperson, told The Indian Express.
Former Foreign Minister and Chairman of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, Kamal Thapa, also supported Beijing’s demand.
However, there are some who are cautious. Senior diplomat Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, former ambassador to India, said while it would be in the interest of SAARC to have China as a member, the “time has still not come for it”.
While New Delhi has not paid much attention to this demand, the current push from Kathmandu is likely to make it wary. Officials, however, dismissed it as a “propaganda” exercise and said they would wait for the member states, including Nepal, to support China’s bid at the official meetings.