China is all positive about Nepal: Huang Youyi

China is all positive about Nepal: Huang Youyi

Huang Youyi is a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), an authentic organisation offering suggestions to the Chinese government. As a scholar, Huang is also secretary-general of the international advisory board of the Charhar Institute, a Chinese think tank that focuses on public diplomacy. Huang was in Kathmandu to take part in a dialogue between the think tanks of Nepal and China, organised by Kathmandu-based Xinhua news agency.

Nandalal Tiwari of The Rising Nepal talked with Huang about the issues pertaining to Nepal-China relations. Excerpts:

How do you view the over 60 years of diplomatic relations between Nepal and China?              

I think in the last 60 years, China and Nepal have enjoyed a very stable, friendly, strong and steady relationship. China has 16 neighbouring countries. Physically, Nepal is not a very big country, but Nepal has a big place in our heart because Nepal has pursued a persistent policy of being a close friend of China. We have benefitted from this friendship. We are grateful that Nepal has been supportive of the One China policy and has been very active in conducting social, cultural and economic exchanges with China.

Personally, I became interested in Nepal in 1965 when the late king visited China. It was reported in the media. At that time, I was a student, and as there was no television, I heard of Nepal on the radio and saw the pictures in the newspapers. For the first time, I saw Nepalese costumes, and I became very interested. So many people of my age, like me, have this long lasting, good impression of the relationship with Nepal.

 Chinese President Xi Jinping has taken a new initiative called One Belt One Road (OBOR) along the ancient Silk Road. It has the objective of connecting different regions and continents and thus effectuating connectivity, economic development. How would Nepal benefit from it?

Well, as you said, the One Belt One Road was proposed by President Xi. This idea as the foreign policy in the last four years since he became President can be summarised in the following words: to build a community of shared future. In other words, it means that there is an opportunity for us all to work together, to create a better future, and it benefits everybody. The key to the OBOR initiative is connectivity. Maybe, partly it's based on the globalisation situation, partly on the fact that China has 16 neighbouring countries, and further out in other parts of the world, south Asia, western Asia and countries in the south, all have a desire to develop economically. Many people say, well, this 21st century is for Asia to develop. So there is that international background.

On the other hand, this proposal came out of some Chinese experience. China really began to develop 35 years ago. At that time, the eastern coastal cities enjoyed quicker development, and the western part of China fell behind. Then the Chinese government spent a lot of money building roads, highways, airports and electricity grids in the western part of China. At that time within China, there was an argument that we should develop the eastern coastal cities. But why were we spending so much money to develop the western part where nothing was happening? Well, in 2008 the international financial crisis came. China until then had been a factory in a way for the world, so we depended heavily on exports. But when the financial crisis came, the international demand for Chinese goods fell dramatically. But we could not close the factories, our workers needed to have jobs. But where to sell our goods was a question. Then we had the western part, which had all the infrastructure ready. It had roads, so the people could buy cars, they had electricity to run electric home appliances, such as refrigerators, washing machines and TV. And the government, to keep the factories running and so that the people could have jobs, gave subsidies in all home appliances, even cars, so that farmers in the west could afford them. This way the farmers could buy things at cheaper prices as they had the infrastructure in place. On the other hand, factories in the eastern part continued producing. So based on this experience, you should not wait to build infrastructure. Now that OBOR has focused on connectivity, if infrastructure is constructed , if there are more links between China and Nepal, trade, tourism will expand.

Another example. In south-western China, there is a province, which is very poor, least developed, mountainous, with very little resources. For many years, it fell behind, and then two high speed railways were built. All of a sudden, tourists flooded in, and now they have a booming tourism industry. Without roads and railways that province would have remained poor. Now, since so many tourists come, they are busy building hotels, opening up new restaurants, buying new cars for the tourists and developing their local handicrafts to sell to tourists. So this infrastructure really can do magic in time before you know it. So I think with more connectivity projects between China and Nepal, both countries will enjoy the benefits.

Sometimes, the commitment to OBOR by the Nepalese leaders has been questioned. There are reports that the Chinese government is not sure about Nepal's commitment to OBOR.

I do not know much, this is my first time in Nepal. So I don’t know the domestic politics enough. If there are such kinds of questions, it is understandable because OBOR is a new thing. If the people in Nepal have such questions, doubts, we should come together, hold discussion and conferences at different levels to discuss what it is all about. We are talking about consultation first, finding the priorities and then working together. So if we have more dialogue in detail at different levels, the people here, the government, media and business circles will have a clear idea. And we will have a clear idea in which area we should work together. 

Nearly a year ago, Nepal and China inked many agreements, including those on trade and transit. But it is reported that there has not been much progress on them. Your views on this?

Well, from our enriched experiences, you have to have a stable government to implement your plan. Normally we work on a five-year basis. So the government is elected for five years, our economic plan is readied on a five-year basis. So nothing will change dramatically during those five years. We push for implementation. And here you change your government too often. If you have a stable, persistent governing system, it would implement the plans, for instance, the agreements former Prime Minister Oli signed last year. But, you know, Nepal is going through a period in which it is trying to find the best solution with regard to the governing system. With the monarchy gone, it is time for you to find the best system. We wish you all the best in that.

Would you say that the process of implementing those agreements is not taking the speed it deserves?

Well, I do not know the specifics. But yesterday, there was a voice at the conference, opinion by Nepalese friends who said that the agreements were not being implemented as planned. That was news to me. But now I am aware of this, I understand, but I hope that the agreements will be implemented. You see they are in Nepal's interest.

You said there was political instability in Nepal. Presently, Nepal is in an important period of trying to implement the Constitution. How do you view the overall political situation of Nepal?

I think change from a monarchy to a republican system is a very dramatic change for a country with such a long history, as that change takes time for the people to adapt to. You need time to find the right ways. The People’s Republic of China has been established for 67 years, and we have been exploring the best way for us to develop. Even today we are trying new things, trying to be creative with our system. So it takes time. We are sure, given the wisdom of the Nepali people, you will eventually be able to find the best solution for your country. As a neighbour, we hope that you have a very stable, effective governing system so that we could work together even more closely.

You are a scholar. You may know much about the perception of China’s leaders about Nepal.

Before I came here, I interviewed about 20 people, from officials to students. I asked them to give one word about their impression about Nepal. They offered me four words: friendly, peaceful, serenity and beautiful. And I said anything negative - well, they said the earthquake.  So the general perception about Nepal in China from the leadership to the grassroots level is very positive. I did study Chinese reporting on Nepal. Ninety-nine per cent of the Chinese reports – not only local Chinese papers but also in the foreign media that China is marketing worldwide - are positive about Nepal. So the people in Nepal need not have the slightest worry that they are ill-perceived in China. China is totally positive. Change of government too often is not unique to Nepal. Nepal has the experience to adjust to it.

Nepal is eager to promote trilateral cooperation among China, Nepal and India. But India seems to have reservations on this. What is your take on this?

I think the Indian friends have been a little bit conservative. This is a globalised world. Nepal or the Nepalese people do not belong to India, they do not belong to China. Big or small, the three of us are equally independent, equally important. If we work together, all three parties - everybody - benefits. For example, if there is a railway from China through Nepal to India, India will also benefit. Maybe it will take some time for the Indian friends to come around and see the benefit of it. Maybe there are other influences. For instance, the US probably would not be happy to see close ties between India and China. So maybe there is outside pressure on India. But I think, over time, as India desires to develop, it needs to export to expand its international market. So eventually they will come around to the trilateral cooperation.

Nepal and China are holding the first ever joint military drill this February, and India seems to be concerned about it.

I think the drill is a positive thing. If we want to have physical connectivity, roads and railways, we need to have stable security. And China has been having military exercises, cooperation with Russia, Pakistan, Myanmar, Thailand and even with India. So the same kind of thing, more or less, is happening with Nepal. It’s a measure we take to ensure that when we work together economically, there is guarantee of security and safety. There is no need to worry about it.  

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