Saturday, April 20, 2013

China's concern with federalism is disintegration risk: Dahal

photo courtacy: Shiv Khakurel
UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal held a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Thursday. Dahal had been invited for a week-long visit to China by the Chinese Communist Party. Purna Basnet of Republica had an exclusive talk with Dahal shortly after the meeting with President Xi. Excerpts:
Which topic has gotten primacy during your China visit?
My visit to China was focused on garnering Chinese support for Nepal´s economic prosperity and stability. I feel that the visit has been fruitful and successful. I was given the opportunity to talk to village and municipal committee secretaries and the provincial secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in Sichuwan. This series ended in Beijing with my meeting with the chief of the party´s International Department and the vice-president and the president of China. I feel that the visit has been more successful than I had expected at the beginning. I feel that this meeting [with Xi] will take Nepal-China relations to a new height.

What were the issues you discussed with the Chinese president?

At the outset of our meeting, the Chinese president congratulated me on our party successfully holding its seventh national convention and electing me as chairman. He then clearly expressed his wish that Nepal would succeed in completing its peace process and constitution-drafting, and move towards rapid economic progress. I thanked him for inviting me as the first South Asian leader to the Great Hall of the People [since he became president]. I told him that this was a matter of great pride and prestige for Nepal. 

I then apprised him briefly about the current political situation in Nepal. We are still passing through a political transition. We have achieved success in completing one of the key elements of the peace process after the successful conclusion of army integration. But we could not achieve success in drafting a new statute and are planning to go for fresh elections. I told him that as a neighbor Nepal expects China´s cooperation for making the election a success. I then briefed him about the policy adopted by our party´s recent general convention. Given the way China has achieved economic prosperity, I told him that our party has also decided to focus on the development of production capacity. I then focused all my presentation on the agenda of economic development. 

What was the agenda discussed in terms of economic development?

Our party and the Nepal government have been supporting a one-China policy. But our support alone will not have any effect. Until Nepal becomes economically prosperous, it cannot extend support that is effective. This is what I put across with emphasis during my meeting with President Xi. I personally feel that he has noted my point with interest. 

What were the areas you discussed concerning investment in Nepal?

I have put forth two most important areas for economic prosperity. Hydroelectricity is one of the important sectors for bring economic prosperity in Nepal within a short span of time. We now have to think in terms of hydropower plants that generate 10,000 Megawatt. China´s Three Gorges company is constructing the West Seti project, and that is a good thing. We now have to think about projects even bigger than that. And the second area in which we have huge potential is tourism. There two are the sectors which can help bring about prosperity in Nepal. We first need infrastructure development for tourism. Hence, I have requested Chinese assistance for building a North-South link road and a mid-hills highway at the earliest.

Likewise, another project that can bring huge economic change in the long term is a Lhasa-Lumbini railway. That railway link will benefit India, Nepal and China alike. I have proposed extending the Chinese railway network, which has reached the Nepal border, to Lumbini. Once Lumbini is connected with the rail network, it can bring about a qualitatively growth in tourism and increase commerce and trade in India as well. This will give Nepal an opportunity to serve as a bridge between China and India or South Asia. Also, it will help address the security concerns of China. 

What was the response of the Chinese president? 

The Chinese president said that what I said was absolutely right. He has assured us that the Chinese government and Communist Party will pay due heed to how much we can do immediately and how much can be done later. Since the president has assured me that China will extend all manner of support we should take it that China is going to support Nepal with the big projects. 

Was there any separate talk on Lumbini?

The Nepal government has been taking special initiative to develop Lumbini as a center for Buddhists across the world and all peace lovers. I am heading a government committee formed for the purpose. This is why I have asked China to extend special assistance for the development of Lumbini. In this context, I said Nepal wishes that China, India and Nepal work jointly for the development of Chisapani hydropower and Lumbini. It will be easier to implement such projects jointly.

What was the response of China to that? 

China had a positive response. China is in favor of working first on bilateral projects that Nepal and China can work together on. They have said that we can discuss later what projects can be implemented jointly by China, Nepal and India. 

You had proposed in Shanghai some two and half years ago trilateral cooperation for the development of Nepal. Are India and China ready for that? 

After talking about trilateral strategic cooperation in Shanghai, I put forth the same idea upon returning to Nepal. It appeared then as a something purely theoretical and strategic. Many were excited over the prospect of trilateral cooperation between China, Nepal and India in overall trade exchange. Some people even deemed it a pure fantasy. But now it is taking pragmatic shape. I now find that China, Nepal and India have agreed in principle to jointly implement big projects in Nepal. Initially, there could be implementation of a few such projects. But once it starts yielding positive results, this could pave way for implementing several other big projects under the same model. 

Do you think India will be ready to invest together with China in Lumbini and the Chisapani hydro project? 

I cannot say anything precisely now. China has also not yet responsed that it is ready do that. Let this point be clear. I have a impression that China will think positively about it. The level of people in India I have been talking to so far say there won´t be any problem in principle. This will be clear once I talk to the Indian leadership. I plan to visit India shortly after my return home. But what is an encouraging aspect in this is that no one will have objections now to implementing big projects in Nepal.

Has China given any assurance of support for polls?

The Chinese president repeated three times that China wishes to see Nepal´s peace process and constitution-drafting concluded at the earliest. Chinese leaders have assured of support for concluding these processes. I could feel deep interest on the part of China to see Nepal move towards the path of economic prosperity after successful conclusion of the peace process and constitution-drafting. 

China has been reminding Nepal that ethnicity-based federalism would invite conflict? Did the Chinese leaders say anything specific about this? 

There was no discussion on the issue during my meeting with the president and the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. But in my meetings with Chinese ministers I had a detailed discussion on the issue. They are not at all against federalism in Nepal. The only concern they have is whether federalism would create further problems in Nepal. They have told me that Nepal needs to have further discussions on the type of federalism, the relations between state and central governments and whether these federal states will have the right to secede. What I felt after the discussions is that it is wrong to say China is against federalism in Nepal. The only concern China has is whether federalism would lead Nepal towards disintegration and that it should keep Nepal united and help move on the path of development. 

Has China sought any assistance on the Tibet issue? 

The main issue in China associated with Nepal is Tibet. We share a 1,400 km border with Tibet. This is a big thing. In that sense, it is natural on the part of China to have in interest in developing special relations with Nepal. During my conversation with the ministers, I found that they were worried whether there were any activities taking place in Nepal against China. They want Nepal to effectively curb such activities.

It will be in the interest of both Nepal and China to properly manage the issue of Tibet. Only a prosperous Nepal can address China´s security concerns effectively; a poor Nepal cannot do that. I raised this issue with President Xi. I feel that the Chinese leadership has also understood the seriousness of this.
from Republica

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