On friendly terms

A significant bilateral accord has been inked by the prime ministers of India and China whereby the two countries will seek a “political settlement” of their border dispute through peaceful consultations. They have also effectively ruled out the use of force against each other. The accord underlines promotion of good neighbourly and friendly ties between them in accordance with the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, or Panchsheel. Pending an “ultimate settlement” of the boundary issue, the two sides will respect and observe the Line of Actual Control and maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas in question. The accord paves a historic path for the two emerging power blocs in Asia — one a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the other an aspiring one.

As a neighbour whose history is closely intertwined with both India and China, the new Sino-Indian accord should benefit Nepal. As it is, Wen Jiabao and Manmohan Singh have also agreed to boost the bilateral trade to $20 billion by 2008 from last year’s $13.6 billion. That means the new dimensions in their ties will actually reflect upon trade and commerce in the years to come. This welcome bilateral embrace could spin off a series of benefits for Nepal provided she is willing to be imaginative and make efforts to make most of the two immediate neighbours’ camaraderie. That should not be a problem as Kathmandu has a long history of good bilateral relations with both India and China. While it is a good news for the whole of South Asia — and indeed the world — for the nuclear neighbours to stop looking in opposite directions, the commitment to find a mutually acceptable solution to such a thorny issue signifies a strategic shift in diplomacy that is at work in a world swept by liberal economics.

The geopolitical realities make it imperative for Nepal to follow any political developments outside her immediate border with extra attention. Unfortunately, Nepal is now caught up in her own problems as India and China keep attaining higher growth rates. Increased Indo-Chinese cooperation would have to be taken by Kathmandu as an opportunity for growth. For example, Nepal’s prospects as a supplier of hydropower to either country have now heightened. There is a need to explore newer means and areas of cooperation. Encouraging a trade corridor through Nepal could be a pathbreaking innovation. Focusing on greater exchange of skilled manpower or other services is another potential field. When those countries who, until half a century ago, were so hostile to each other can find common grounds, it is time for everybody in the region to draw lesson and be inspired by the notion of mutual harmony and accommodation.