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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Interview with H.E. Zheng Xianglin, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Nepal

September 2, 2007

OPINION NEPAL: HARMONIOUS DRAGON-ELEPHANT DANCING WILL MAKE CONTRIBUTIONS TO PEACE AND STABILITY

H.E. Zheng Xianglin, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China

Q.1 Nepal-China relations have withstood remarkably the vicissitudes of history, including many dramatic political changes in both countries in recent times. How confident are you that it will continue on an even keel in the days or years ahead?

Ambassador: China and Nepal are close neighbors with a long history of friendship. Since the establishment of diplomatic relationship in 1955, the China-Nepal relations have stood the test of time and changes in the world and grown healthily and smoothly. I am fully confident about the future continual development of bilateral relationship. It is the set policy of the Chinese government to carry forward and further develop the good-neighborly friendship between our two countries. China and Nepal are aiming to build the good-neighborly friendship with the objectives of continuously consolidating and further developing the long-term partnership of mutual trust in politics and mutual benefit in economy. I am convinced that with the joint efforts of both sides, China-Nepal relations will grow further and bring more benefit to both peoples.

Keeping in mind the many memorable contributions by leaders of both countries to deepening and strengthening Nepal-China ties in the past, our leadership is keen to know whether any official visit from either, or both, side(s) is/are being contemplated, including that at the prime ministerial level? Also, is there any veracity to reports circulating in Kathmandu that Maoist chairman Prachanda may be visiting Beijing in the autumn as a guest of the Chinese government or the Chinese Communist Party?

China and Nepal, linking by mountains and rivers, enjoy cordial cooperation on governmental, parliamentary, party-to-party and people-to-people level. The expanding cooperation in various fields has strongly pressed ahead with the further development of China-Nepal good-neighborly friendship. Not long ago, a delegation from Commerce Ministry of China led by Assistant Minister Wang Chao paid a successful visit to Nepal and conducted fruitful consultation with Nepalese officials during the 10th meeting of Nepal-China Inter Governmental Economic and Trade Committee in Kathmandu. In September, Mr. Wang Zhongyu, Standing Vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference will pay a friendly visit to Nepal. And within the second half of the year, the diplomatic authorities of our two countries will hold bilateral diplomatic consultative talks in Nepal.

Regarding the Prime Minister’s visit to China, the Foreign Ministries of both sides have been keeping contacts with each other. Regarding Prachanda’s visit, there is no news like that.

Q.2 Not long ago, media reports, quoting official sources, had disclosed that Nepal had formally applied for observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization using the good offices of China in that regard. What, in your view, are Nepal’s prospects for acquiring such a status?

Ambassador: China welcomes the wish of Nepal to become the observer of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). According to the Regulations on the Observer status of the SCO, a state wishing to receive observer status at the SCO should forward a letter through the Secretary-General to the President State of SCO. As far as I know, Nepal has already written to the sitting president state Kyrgyzstan. China has already briefed other state members about Nepal’s application and we believe that the member states of SCO will take that into sincere study and make a decision by consensus.

Q.3 Nepal, as you are aware, played a key role at the Dhaka SAARC summit in November 2005 in securing observer status for China in that regional organization. It has subsequently come to light that China is now keen on acquiring full SAARC membership. If that, indeed, is the case, how do you assess China’s prospects? How would such membership for China benefit South Asia as a whole?

Ambassador: SAARC is an important regional cooperation organization in South Asia and it has a very important role in safeguarding stability and promoting common development in South Asia. China has been attaching importance to and following the development of South Asia and we feel glad to be accepted as an observer of SAARC in April 2006. We especially would like to express our gratitude to Nepal for its support. China lying in the east of Asia, is the common friendly neighbor of South Asia. We greatly cherish our status as the observer of SAARC. China is willing to make joint efforts with all SAARC countries to make positive contribution to peace and stability of South Asia as well as the economic and social development of countries in the region.

Q.4 In recent years, there has been increasing emphasis to bolster greater people-to-people contacts, even enhanced interaction between Nepalese and Chinese journalists. Do you think a sizeable annual flow of Chinese tourists, including for pilgrimage purposes to Lumbini, the Buddha’s birthplace, might provide a powerful if unofficial shot-in-the-arm for Nepal-China relations? What needs to be done to fulfill that objective?

Ambassador: Chinese people and the Nepalese people enjoy a history of friendly interactions for thousands of years. Since the establishment of diplomatic relationship, our two countries have conducted extensive and fruitful cooperation in economic, cultural, tourist and media areas. In 2002, Nepal was declared as the out-bound tourist destination by Chinese government. Since then, the number of Chinese tourists to Nepal has increased by years, which greatly strengthen the people-to-people relations between our two countries. However, compared with the sound political relationship, the economic cooperation and people-to-people interaction still await future promotion. China is ready to work together with Nepal to press ahead with further cooperation in these areas.

Occasionally attention is focused on improving surface transportation links between Nepal and the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, both in terms of upgrading existing routes as well as in constructing new road connections. However, not much is heard these days about the Kathmandu-Rasuwagadi Highway connecting with Kerung in Tibet. What, if anything, is hindering its speedy completion?

The construction of the Syafrubensi-Rasuwagadhi road has already been listed as one of the assistant projects from China, which is delayed due to the political instability in Nepal. During the 10th meeting of Nepal-China Inter Governmental Economic and Trade Committee, both sides agreed to accelerate the process of the construction work and signed the Agreement of Economic and Technical Cooperation between the two governments to provide Nepal with a grant of RMB 50 million to be used for the project of Syafrubensi-Rasuwagadhi road and other projects to be discussed and decided upon between the two governments. This project of the Syafrubensi-Rasuwagadhi road will be started within this year. Talking about Tibet, this weekly is reminded of the oft-quoted Western description of Tibet as “China’s soft underbelly”. Is that a valid description of 21st century Tibet? And is there any that Nepal can help, if necessary, in staving off undesirable activities aimed at creating political instability in Tibet from Nepalese soil?

Tibet, lying in southwest of China, is an inalienable part of Chinese territory. Since the establishment of Tibet Autonomous Region, after 4 decades of development, Tibet has made great progress in various areas enjoying political stability, economic prosperity, improving living standard, and well-preserved cultures. Especially in recent years, TAR has entered a new stage for leap-forward development with ethnic solidarity being further strengthened and social stability further guaranteed.

It’s true that some anti-China forces try to use Tibet issue to stage incidents, which is firmly opposed by Chinese government and people. China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would brook no division, and the position of the Chinese Government in upholding the one – China principle is rock solid and defies all challenges. We highly appreciate the One-China position of Nepalese government and people by not allowing any forces to use Nepal’s land for any anti-China activities.

Q.5. Should Tibet’s truly spectacular all-round development, including the recent completion of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, be a matter of concern for India, as often argued by Indian academics and experts? Or, does it, instead, represent the opening up of new exciting vistas in trade, tourism and cultural exchanges between India and China from which perhaps Nepal, too, might benefit?

Ambassador: Geographically, India abuts border upon the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, and both sides have direct relations in aspects as economics and trade, tourism, water conservancy and so on. The operation of Qinghai-Tibet railway, the completion of the Nyingchi Airport and the reopening of the Natula trade market on the China and India border have further reduced the geographical distance between Tibet and the outside world, especially has pulled closer the distance with India. The bilateral relationship between China and India has flourished in recent years. From now on, in order to promote the thorough development of the China and India’s trade, tourism and culture exchanges, we hope to join hand with India for further cooperation and the expansion of friendly interaction between the Tibet Autonomous Region of China and India, which will make Tibet a positive factor to impel the development of China and India relationship. Of course, the unceasing development of the China and India relationship will naturally benefit their common neighboring country— Nepal.

Q.6 Should the steady improvement in Sino-Indian relations be a matter of worry for Nepal? Or, does it instead represent a new beacon of hope for peace, stability and prosperity?

Ambassador: China and India are two big developing countries and important Asian nations. To develop their friendship benefits both parts and will also have a significant and far-reaching impact on Asia and the world at large. The harmonious dragon-elephant dancing will certainly make great contributions to the peace, stability, development and prosperity of the region and the world, especially helpful to Nepal as their neighboring country for its achievement to the stability and prosperity.

Q.7 There is much speculation in the air about America’s increased presence and assertiveness in Nepal, of late. Is that a matter of anxiety for China, especially against the backdrop of America’s oft-hyped concern about alleged sharp rise in China’s military expenditure, not to mention the US’s own military initiatives, including in the matter of establishing a missile defense system network?

Ambassador: China firmly pursues a road of peaceful development, and has all along practiced a national defense policy that is purely defensive in nature. China attaches importance to the control of its defense expenditure. Compared with other countries in the world and many Asian countries, China’s percentages of defense expenditure in both the GDP and the State financial expenditure remain at a low level. Making irresponsible remarks about the defense expenditure of China by some countries is out of their ulterior motive. All these remarks are baseless.

Regarding the Missile Defense System of US, China think such an act should be conducive to maintaining regional peace and stability and preventing the situation from escalating and deteriorating. China always holds that the Missile Defense will affect strategic balance and stability. It is not conducive to mutual trust between major countries and regional security, and it may cause new proliferation problems. We hope relevant parties can act cautiously.

Q.8 Overall, how would describe Nepal-China ties today? What, in your four-month stay in Nepal till now, has surprised you the most and pleased you the most?

Ambassador: China and Nepal are good neighbors, friends and partners. Between our two countries, there aren’t issues left over from history, neither real-life disputes. At the same time, both sides are witnessing the political mutual trust, sincere economic cooperation, and mutual understanding and support in international and regional affairs, which has become a good example of equal coexistence between big and small countries. I have been in Nepal for more than four months. In the contacts with the Nepalese friends from all circles, I have been touched by the friendly feelings the Nepalese people have shown to the Chinese people. Moreover, I have spent my free time visiting the scenic spots and historic resorts in Kathmandu valley, and have deeply intoxicated by Nepal’s beautiful scenes of nature and inimitable tradition of culture.

Q.9. Might our readers know what you do for relaxation after a heavy day’s work load?

Ambassador: I love sports. I go playing golf on weekends sometimes.

(Courtesy: Weekly Mirror, Nepal)

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