8-14 February 2013 #642

Trilateral Track Two

Thinkers from China, India, and Nepal explore a new common agenda for prosperity for their 2.5 billion people
Bhaskar Koirala
THREE'S COMPANY: Academics and thinkers from Nepal, China, and India attended a trilateral meeting on 30 January to discuss a common approach to development and progress.
Setting aside the sophisticated discourse of international relations theories and all the ‘isms’ which we allow ourselves to be dictated and constrained by, one of the most compelling reasons to foster meaningful trilateral cooperation between China, India, and Nepal is to begin a process towards an ‘Asian values’ paradigm.

The term ‘Asian values’ has got a lot of bad press because of the perception that it undermines democracy and is against basic individual freedoms. It is often seen as an antithesis to ‘Western values’ of individual political freedom and pluralism.

But Nepal, together with the two Asian giants it borders to the north and south, all share a quest to generate more wealth and spread prosperity more equitably among their peoples. Maybe there is a new path and a re-definition of value systems that stem from the rich cultural and philosophical legacies of these three nations.

From Mumbai to Shanghai, from Lhasa to Lumbini, from Xi’an to Bhaktapur, from New Delhi to Beijing, the three countries subsume the medieval to the ancient, the past, present, and future. Can the blend of a rich cultural legacy with modern technological advancement bring about progress, both material and spiritual?

We have become accustomed to relying on a certain body of knowledge which prevents us from thinking outside the box, as it were. Our acculturation, education background, and upbringing may predispose us to accepting certain values as inalienable. But can we create a different constellation of beliefs that we could truly call an ‘Asian resurgence’ that combines the possibility of spectacular material well-being without sacrificing human dignity and freedoms?

Within all three of our countries we find common beliefs and practices that could be described as ‘medieval’, features which are apparently inconsistent with mainstream understanding of development, or incongruous with prevalent notions of democracy.

However they are not necessarily so and an earnest effort must be made to calibrate a new ideology for progress from the common cultural substrates in China, Nepal, and India.

What contribution can the three states make that will translate into actual day-to-day cooperation in international relations and the promotion of regional peace? The concurrent rise of China and India is a geopolitical event that presages a new epoch in international relations. Much of the commentary on this issue, however, is cast in terms of competition and rivalry. The notion of how these two states might collaborate in a practical sense, and perhaps involving a third country like Nepal with which both are geographically linked, has not received the attention that it deserves.

Last week, academics and thinkers from the three countries came together in Kathmandu in a unique trilateral meeting organised by the Nepal Institute of International and Strategic Studies (NIISS) to begin to discuss, starting from a clean slate, a common approach to development and progress.

It was an open exchange of ideas in which nothing was considered impossible or taboo. It was a modest step on a shoe-string budget to see if there is a Track II tripartite dialogue that takes a fresh new look at the philosophical underpinings of a future partnership that can lead to progress and prosperity for the nearly 2.5 billion people in the three countries.

How can the vast majority of people in the three countries gain from a structured, calculated, and realistic cooperation? What are the untapped complementarities in a future China-India-Nepal trilateral framework?

NIISS partnered with the Centre for South Asia-West China Cooperation and Development Studies of Sichuan University, the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, the Institute of Chinese Studies in New Delhi, and the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences in Lhasa.

This trilateral partnership, which will meet next in Beijing, will not just be a talk-fest, but explore concrete ideas for cooperation in energy with the possibility for trans-boundary power trade agreements, security, fighting crimes across borders, and jointly addressing disaster management.

Bhaskar Koirala is the Director of the Nepal Institute of International and Strategic Studies.


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