SALZBURG, Austria - The world is debating how to narrow down differences among countries and get essential work done on trade and business and cooperation on important matters like climate change. Meanwhile, the largest party in parliament here in Nepal, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), is conjuring up ways to drive a wedge between China and India, two of Asia's rising and dominant powers.
At a recent seminar on 'The Future of Asian Integration and Security in the 21st Century: Sharing Experience on Multilateralism and Institution-Building from Europe', scholars, foreign ministry officials, and experts from Asia, Europe and the US discussed on minimising the tension in the South China Sea, narrowing the growing animosity between China and Japan, and avenues for cooperation in ASEAN as well as South Asia. Of course, it was not unusual to see national positions being restated by scholars from 'rival' countries. But there was a willingness to explore and debate ideas and honest attempts to analyse what ails Asia, particularly its south, east and southeast regions (the Middle East was not discussed). After all, Japan and China, and India and China, are still doing business despite existing territorial disputes.
For us Nepalis, the growth of our neighbours - China and India - should be a wake-up call to the fact that we are lagging behind, and seriously. Their economies, growing so robustly, are the envy of the world. Their bilateral trade (expected to exceed US$60 billion in 2010) has defied all expectations. And the party in Nepal that is touted as being strategically and tactically brilliant seems not to recognise the significance of this.
It's worth recalling a conversation that some former colleagues and I had with a senior Indian diplomat last year. "You Nepalis overestimate your importance when it comes to ties between India and China," he told us. "Nepal does not count when it comes to bilateral relations between my country and China."
It was a blunt thing to say, but true. It's foolish to try and put ourselves between the two regional powers and think we can influence their bilateral relations on our account. In which world are the Maoists living? Lessons have not been learnt even after losing out as a neutral venue for India-Pakistan track II diplomacy talks (now the two countries' interlocutors meet elsewhere). Can we host India-China track II talks, if at all? Hardly, since the two countries are talking directly and more openly than in the past. Can we do anything to bring them closer and reap the dividends from their awesome progress? We can think about it.
The two countries are talking about how to intensify the process of business connectivity, working together at international forums like the G20, and presenting a united stance on climate change. But they are also thinking of working together on projects in other countries. "We even talked about the possibility of cooperating in certain subjects in other countries, whether three-party or four-party collaborative projects in the economic field as well," said Yang Jiechi, China's foreign minister, during a visit by India's National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon to China in July this year.
These projects and areas of third country-collaboration have not been identified but the intent is there. This could be crucial to our efforts to generate energy. Apart from hydropower, the two countries could work together on roads and environmental conservation in Nepal.
We need to talk about trade and economy, jobs, infrastructure building, and how to get the best out of the two giant neighbours whose goodwill we can easily tap into. Instead, we are trying to pit India against China. It may only be one party's strategy, but since it is the most powerful party in Nepal right now, it does have an impact. This is a futile, and counterproductive exercise (for us).
"China attaches great importance to this relationship (between China and India),"Yang emphasised on that occasion. It's clear which way the wind is blowing. Instead of going against it, it would be prudent to go with the flow.