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بدھ، 2 مارچ، 2011

Nepal caught between China and India

A recent recording making the rounds in Nepal featured a Maoist party leader speaking to a man with a Chinese accent. During the 12-minute tape, the Chinese voice offers $6.9 million to bribe 50 Nepali legislators for help in forming a Maoist-led government that would favor China over India.

Whether the tape is genuine, whether the voice is really that of a Chinese official and whether India's intelligence wing released it as part of a propaganda exercise haven't been established.

But the tape reinforced a long-standing view in Nepal: The strategically located, landlocked nation of 30 million people is a playground for its two giant neighbors. A "delicate yam between two boulders" is the way King Prithvi Narayan Shah summed it up as far back as the 18th century.

Early this month, after 17 attempts to name a prime minister, reflecting Nepal's political paralysis, Jhalnath Khanal was picked for the post. Among the many challenges facing the new leader is balancing relations with the two neighbors.

"My government will deepen and strengthen the relationship with both" India and China, Khanal said shortly after his election. . "I haven't decided yet" which country to visit first.

For much of its history, Nepal has been heavily influenced by India. Four million Nepalese work in India. And a long, porous border, shared religious traditions and a common history under the British Empire have bound the two.

Contact with China was long impeded by the 30,000-foot Himalayan peaks to the north.

But an ascending Middle Kingdom is changing the equation, making India anxious.

"I see Delhi as both confused and nervous," said Bhekh B. Thapa, Nepal's former foreign minister.

China's footprints are widely evident.

Beijing is building a $1.9-billion railroad from the city of Lhasa to the Tibet-Nepal border that may eventually reach Katmandu. Chinese trade, aid and infrastructure projects are pouring in.

"Now China is the goose with the golden eggs," said Kesang Tseten, a Katmandu-based documentary filmmaker.

Nepali politicians traveling to Beijing are tripping over one another as China funds Nepali police training, border control, roads, even garbage trucks.

"The new China is flexing its muscles in line with its economic might," said Kanak Mani Dixit, Katmandu-based editor of Himal Southasian magazine. "It's also trying to rattle India."
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