Is China Grooming 'Another Tibet'? Beijing-Katmandu Ties Stir Concern

Article excerpt

Byline: Frederick Stakelbeck Jr., SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Over the past 10 months, the Himalayan nation of Nepal has adopted a potentially explosive pro-China foreign policy strategy designed to expand diplomatic and military relations between the two countries. The genesis of this policy can be traced to February, when dictatorial King Gyanendra seized absolute power by suspending free elections and democratic reforms.

Since then, Katmandu has come under intense pressure from traditional allies India, Britain and the United States, all of which imposed a range of tough sanctions, essentially freezing all military exchanges. All three countries have stated recently that military assistance to Nepal would resume only when King Gyanendra has handed over executive power to a democratic government and addressed human-rights concerns.

Facing the prospect of escalating internal unrest from an alienated public and a rising Maoist insurrection, war-torn Nepal has turned to alternative sources for military support, namely, mainland China. This new relationship poses difficult questions for India and the United States, testing the resolve of the world's two largest democracies.

In November, Royal Nepalese Army Gen. Pyar Jung Thapa secured a "no strings attached" grant of $12 million from China, the first such assistance since 1998. That same month, Nepal's Kantipur Daily reported that truckloads of arms and ammunition had crossed over the China-Nepal border under the close escort of the Chinese army.

Just a few weeks earlier, Gen. Thapa met with Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan in Beijing. During their meeting, Gangchan indicated that his country would continue to promote military cooperation with Nepal, noting that bilateral relations have "witnessed progress." Later, Liang Guangile of the Chinese People's Liberation Army discussed issues related to Taiwan and Tibet with Gen. Thapa.

Although Indian and U.S. military aid to Nepal still far exceeds China's recent "donations," expanded military cooperation sends a clear message to New Delhi and Washington that Beijing plans to increase its influence in the region. All of this makes economic competitor and past military adversary India especially nervous. "It is a serious concern for India especially if the [defense] agreement with China is to be a long-term plan," one Indian defense official said.

In the past, India has supplied Nepal with rifles, Lancer helicopter gun ships, armored vehicles and ammunition in order to support democracy efforts and to repel Maoist activities on its northern border. …