In post-quake rush for aid, Nepal’s neigh­bours jockey for prime po­si­tion

The China Post - - GUIDE POST - BY DIDI TANG

Wedged be­tween the two ris­ing Asian pow­ers, main­land China and In­dia, land­locked Nepal watched res­cuers and of­fers of help pour in from both sides within hours of an earth­quake that killed more than 4,000 peo­ple.

In­dia, the tra­di­tional power in the re­gion, launched Op­er­a­tion Friend­ship soon af­ter the quake Satur­day. It has sent the most help so far, de­ploy­ing 13 air­craft and more than 500 res­cuers as well as wa­ter, food, equip­ment and med­i­cal sup­plies.

Main­land China, in­creas­ingly mak­ing in­roads in Nepal through ev­ery­thing from in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment to in­creased tourism, also pledged all-out as­sis­tance within hours of the dis­as­ter. It has sent 62 res­cuers plus blan­kets, tents and gen­er­a­tors and an­nounced plans to send four planes and an ad­di­tional 170 sol­diers.

In­dia’s ri­val, Pak­istan, also has sent four cargo planes full of sup­plies, in­clud­ing con­crete cut­ters and snif­fer dogs.

The largesse of re­cent days is a mi­cro­cosm of some­thing much larger. It rep­re­sents a sub­tle brand of dis­as­ter pol­i­tics, a cu­ri­ous but un­der­stand­able fo­cus on strate­gi­cally lo­cated Nepal, one of the poor­est na­tions in its re­gion but — clearly — a pocket of re­gional im­por­tance for pow­er­ful neigh­bors jock­ey­ing for po­si­tion.

Nepal’s pop­u­la­tion of 27 mil­lion tra­di­tion­ally has fallen un­der In­dia’s eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal sway. In­dia, also a pre­dom­i­nantly Hindu na­tion, con­sid­ers Nepal within its tra­di­tional sphere of in­flu­ence, and as many as 3 mil­lion Nepalese live and work in In­dia.

But re­cent years have seen Nepal forge closer ties with the main­land Chi­nese as a coun­ter­weight, and the Nepalese gov­ern­ment has as­sured Bei­jing that it will not tol­er­ate any anti-com­mu­nist China po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism by Ti­betans in Nepal.

An in­creas­ingly ex­pan­sive Bei­jing, mean­while, is ea­ger to court the Nepalese gov­ern­ment as it opens trade routes south and west­ward and seeks to keep the neigh­bor­ing coun­try’s ex­iled Ti­betan com­mu­nity from fo­ment­ing un­rest across the bor­der in main­land­con­trolled Ti­bet.

More than Hu­man­i­tar­ian

Rea­sons

The main­land also is aim­ing to “shoul­der more in­ter­na­tional re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and du­ties” as its econ­omy and global pro­file in­creases, said Wang Lian, an ex­pert on South Asian af­fairs at Pek­ing Uni­ver­sity’s School of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

“When China walks the walk and ful­fills its du­ties, it will cer­tainly boost its in­flu­ence in South Asia and add to the good will that the Nepalese public has to­ward China,” Wang said.

Diplo­mats in Nepal’s neigh­bor­ing coun­tries deny any ri­valry in aid ef­forts. Still, the quake has pro­vided a venue for them to dis­play their strengths in hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance and, by ex­ten­sion, their rel­a­tive sway.

While Chi­nese re­lief ef­forts may not ri­val In­dia’s in Nepal quite yet, its of­fers of in­vest­ment in the power in­dus­try and other in­fra­struc­ture could give In­dia some sub­stan­tial com­pe­ti­tion, said S.D. Muni, an In­dian ex­pert on Nepal with the gov­ern­ment-run think thank In­sti­tute for De­fense Stud­ies and Analy­ses.

“The Chi­nese have sent their first re­lief team, and they would cer­tainly pro­vide eco­nomic as­sis­tance to Nepal, which finds it­self in a ter­ri­ble con­di­tion,” Muni said.

With nearly US$4 tril­lion in for­eign cur­rency re­serves and a vast en­gi­neer­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­ity, the Chi­nese main­land is likely to play a ma­jor role in Nepal’s re­build­ing process. The main­land also has been plan­ning to ex­tend rail­way tracks to the bor­der with Nepal that may even­tu­ally connect to Kathmandu.

All th­ese in­vest­ments are part of Bei­jing’s am­bi­tious plans to build in­fra­struc­ture across a broad swath of south­ern and Cen­tral Asia, as high­lighted in a re­cent pledge to in­vest as much as US$46 bil­lion in Pak­istan.

Pak­istan, which sent four C-130 air­craft to Nepal by Mon­day, views its neigh­bor as a sup­port­ive but in­de­pen­dent voice in the re­gion, while In­dia feels it needs to keep Nepal on its side as main­land China boosts its in­volve­ment there, said Pak­istani de­fense an­a­lyst Talat Ma­sood, a for­mer army gen­eral.

“The very strate­gic po­si­tion of Nepal makes it very im­por­tant for Pak­istan, In­dia and China,” Ma­sood said.

In In­dia, both state and pri­vate tele­vi­sion net­works have been pro­vid­ing around-the-clock cov­er­age of the quake high­light­ing In­dia’s re­sponse with mil­i­tary air­craft and he­li­copters fly­ing over­head and res­cue work­ers dig­ging sur­vivors and bod­ies from man­gled de­bris. In­dian teams re­port res­cu­ing 200 peo­ple so far.

On the main­land, state broad­caster CCTV gave prom­i­nent cov­er­age to a red-suited team of Chi­nese main­land res­cuers pulling a man from de­bris in Kathmandu on Sun­day.

Ac­cord­ing to Nepal’s army, which is in­volved in the res­cue ef­fort, res­cuers and med­i­cal teams from at least a dozen coun­tries are al­ready in the coun­try and help­ing. Even tiny Hi­malayan neigh­bor Bhutan, which ex­pelled eth­nic Nepalese in the 1990s, has a med­i­cal team on hand. Ac­cord­ing to the army, teams from Rus­sia, Ja­pan, France, Switzer­land and Sin­ga­pore will ar­rive in the next cou­ple of days.

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