Sunday, July 03, 2011

Lest We Get Caught Up In The Rapture

Sooner or later Nepalis will have to break out of the rapture over the elevation China has accorded its ambassadorship to Nepal and recognize that Yang Houlan is here primarily to further his own country’s interests.
That we are tripping over ourselves to discover what the appointment of such a senior diplomat might mean shouldn’t be a cause for concern so long as we keep things in perspective. Nepalis have lived long enough as a nation, state or whatever it is to recognize that regardless of the intensity of China’s interest, our fragility is our own to worry about.
Historically, Nepal has made a virtue out of exaggerating its proximity to China to the point of irritating the Chinese. In the days of yore, emperors and ambans were quite direct in conveying their displeasure. We were worse than barbarians – we were even addressed as robbers and bandits in official communication.
To remain independent, Nepalis have had to develop an uncanny way of keeping the British guessing about the true nature of our relationship with China. During the Anglo-Nepalese war, Lord Moira actually had planned for the possibility of Chinese military intervention on our behalf when Beijing was daring us to join the feringhis. Even after imposing the Sugauli Treaty on us, the governor-general was prepared to withdraw the residency before receiving assurances of Chinese acquiescence. The British had to defeat the Chinese in the First Opium War to discover that the Middle Kingdom was incapable of helping even if they wanted to. (And that was a big if.)
But the mandate of heaven weighed so heavily on imperial shoulders that Nepali tribute missions served to massage the imperial ego. Our crafty Rana rulers slipped in enough consignments of opium to ensure that commercially we came out on top from the pangs of political subordination. That so infuriated the Manchus that they formally claimed suzerainty over Nepal at the precise time the ground right around them was slipping away the fastest.
The Nepal-China peace and friendship treaty abrogated all previous treaties, allowing Nepalis to believe that Tibet was Beijing’s last stop. Chinese acerbity in official correspondence has ceased in modern times, barring that phase in 1967 during the height of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. But in private Chinese diplomats and academics are known to seethe in the same way at the Maoists as they did at the monarchs.
While Mao seemed to have forgotten his assertion that Nepal was among territories lost to the imperialists during the century of humiliation (a sentiment Sun Yat-sen shared), the Great Helmsman and his acolytes also perfected the traditional Chinese practice of proffering high-sounding but ambiguous statements of support contingent upon quid pro quos, something that has stood out sharper in the splendor of our newness.
China’s ambassador became the first foreign envoy to present his credentials to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala in 2007 only after Koirala had made a full-throated pitch for China’s inclusion as a full member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. The prospect of that train being brought from Lhasa to the Nepalese border has energized four governments since the April 2006 Uprising, but who can really be sure about when to expect it to arrive? (Maila Baje recalls that the Qinghai-Lhasa portion was completed ahead of schedule.)
So when the next time a Chinese leader says his or her country will not sit idly by if anyone threatens Nepalese independence and sovereignty, by all means let’s not disbelieve those words. But even if Chinese soldiers happen to shed blood to defend Nepal’s territorial integrity, let’s be able to recognize – in full gratitude – that they would be doing so ultimately because they deemed it was in their national interest.