The last two months have taken a toll on Nepal's geo-political standing not only in the region but also on the world stage. The refoulement of Tibetan refugees may cost us the garment quota, and the patching of differences between China and India makes us rather expendable to the equation.
The Beed laments the myopia of a certain US senator who misses the wood for the trees: 18 Tibetan refugees at the cost of thousands of garment workers left straddling the poverty line. There was no outrage when people of Nepali origin were forcefully evicted from Bhutan and India in the final decades of the last century. The economic impact of supporting approximately 100,000 refugees has been tremendous on the Nepali economy and yet there was precious little international attention or sanctions placed against either of the two nation states. On the contrary, Bhutani tourism continues to draw well-heeled travellers and India became the economic tiger of the sub-continent-the latter not without considerable 'help' from the United States-the same country that is whipping Nepal's economy and tourism. It is unwarranted for the international community to clog the wheels of tourism that has been stuck in a rut ever since SARS damaged the small upswing that the nation was experiencing. (Unfortunately, the Nepali government seems intent on acting just as insensibly. How can one excuse the recent ban on birthday celebrations by the Tibetan community of the Dalai Lama?)
The larger issue, of course, remains the economic impact of the mutually beneficial agreements between China and India. The two control a third of the world market and realised it made more economic sense to smooth over prickly political issues in favour of commerce. Nepal has been affected by the change in status quo. We can no longer bargain on our strategic importance as a trade conduit between China and India. Our government floundered over an institutional framework for a trading centre and transit point, the private sector focused on vegetable ghiu. What they should have done was join hands to oil the mechanism to create a conducive trade and transit environment.
The opening of a direct Sino-Indian corridor means quicker access for Chinese goods to the market, not only to India but also into the Middle East and Africa. Rather than Shanghai or Hongkong, goods will be re-routed through to Indian ports and then further afield to the West. China will benefit in trade and transit and India from the service industry. The rail and road networks in China are being built taking into consideration the old transit route with India rather than through Nepal.
The Beed's crystal ball shows a decrease in trans-Himalayan trade unless Nepali associations and businesses find more creative and lucrative ways of maintaining ties with our northern neighbour. One way to leverage our position would be to build roads and networks in the western part of the country, because the east is lost to us with the renewed ties between India and China. There is Kailash-centric tourism and the large mass of western China that must be nurtured. The Beed believes there is still enough time to literally build our bridges and pave our roads.
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