TOPICS : How China looks at Maoist insurgency

Prakash A Raj

How China views the situation in Nepal is a question that is becoming increasingly important in the present context. China’s border with Nepal is not an open one and the insurgents have not found sanctuary inside it. However, as a major power, it is interested in the turbulent situation here. I got an opportunity to interact with Chinese officials as a member of a team of the Nepal Council of World Affairs (NCWA) who visited China in May at the invitation extended by the China Association of International Understanding. As China has called the Maoist insurgents “anti-government outfits,” the same term was used during the talks. In a meeting with the Chinese scholars at the China Institute for International Strategic Studies in Beijing, which offers policy advice as a “think tank,” deputy chairman of the Institute Cai Bingkui stressed the need to address the root causes of the conflict and to bring the insurgents in the national mainstream.

Chinese ambassador to Nepal Sung addressed the NCWA on May 28 on China’s foreign policy in South Asia. In view of China’s stand against all forms of terrorism, he said that calling them anti-government forces is not the same thing as calling them terrorists as was done by India and the US. China also stated that it was for the Nepalis to decide if they wanted international mediation to resolve the problem. China’s foreign policy is against interference in the internal affairs of a neighbouring country. China is also concerned about what it calls anti-China activities by Tibetan exiles in Nepal. The Chinese ambassador’s speech of May 28 calls the Tibet issue “China’s major concern in Nepal.” He was also concerned about “free Tibet movement” and the office of the representative of Dalai Lama in Kathmandu as well as the “reception centre” for the Tibetan refugees. He also complained how some external forces granted the status of refugees to the illegal immigrants and pressurised Nepal against their repatriation to China and were critical of “so-called human rights violations and political and religious persecution.”

Chinese are concerned about increasing American involvement in the affairs of Nepal. It is interesting to note that the Indians reacted when Nepal wanted to purchase some Chinese arms in the late 1980s and imposed a blockade. On the other hand, India did not protest when American arms started arriving a couple of years years. This is primarily because the US and India have become allies in their fight against terrorism. China is also facing the threat of terrorism along its western border in the province of Sinkiang. It is interesting to note that the US, India and China find themselves on the same side opposing terrorism.

There seems to be some shift in Chinese stand towards the activities of the Maoists in Nepal. The Chinese president had offered moral support in crushing the insurgency during King Gyanendra’s visit to Beijing in July 2002. Sung has not branded them as terrorists this time. However, some Maoist leaders in Nepal have expressed concern that the Americans were attempting to “encircle” China and were using Nepal for that purpose. Is it possible that the deteriorating situation in Nepal as well as inadequate steps to take into account issues of concern to China have caused some shift in their stand on the Maoist insurgents?