August 17, 2017 12:37:11 am
Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang began his three-day visit to Nepal on Tuesday by announcing a $ 1 million package to help the flood-hit country. A few days earlier, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj assured all help to Nepal to deal with the natural calamity that has claimed more than 100 lives. But with its chequebook diplomacy in Nepal, China has scored over India once again. China has also used Wang’s visit to stamp its soft diplomacy. On Tuesday, the Chinese vice-premier inaugurated the reconstruction of the historic nine-storey palace at Kathmandu’s Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square, that was damaged two years ago in a devastating earthquake — China will fund the reconstruction of this world heritage site. India, in contrast, has been conspicuous by its minimal presence in the efforts to reconstruct the historical sites destroyed in the 2015 earthquake.
While India and China have competed for influence over Nepal for decades, the earthquake should be seen as a significant moment in the relations between the three countries. After the calamity, Nepal courted its two big neighbours to rebuild its economy. But India’s $ 340 million commitment towards infrastructure projects in Nepal is dwarfed by the $ 8.3 billion China has pledged to Nepal’s road and hydropower projects. While India cannot match China’s economic clout, New Delhi should be concerned by Kathmandu seeking Beijing’s technical expertise in areas as diverse as building energy utilities and restoration of heritage buildings. During Wang’s visit, the two countries also signed an agreement to undertake a feasibility study to explore natural gas and petroleum in the Himalayan country. China has also responded positively to Nepal government’s appeal to help it reopen the 114-kilometre Araniko highway — an old route connecting the two countries — that was damaged and closed after the 2015 earthquake.
This gesture is sure to be compared in Kathmandu with what Nepal perceives as India’s domineering attitude during the Madhesi agitation, a few months after the earthquake. Though New Delhi has refuted Nepal’s allegations that it had a hand in the highway blockade by the Madhesis, it has not been successful in changing the popular perception that holds it responsible for the crippling shortage of essential commodities after the blockade. Wang’s visit will consolidate the perception of China being Nepal’s friend in need. This failure in soft diplomacy should worry policymakers in New Delhi, much more than China’s increasing economic footprint in Nepal.
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