“China’s Latest Bid to Flex Its Regional Muscle”

Ellen Bork has an article in The New Republic about Tibetan refugees in Nepal. The latest political developments might go either way for them, she says:

But the Chinese are influencing other aspects of Nepal’s relationship with their local Tibetan community. In response to Chinese pressure, Nepal has curtailed Tibetan religious and cultural activities and attempted to intimidate the local representative of the Dalai Lama. Just this year on October 18, two of the local representative’s aides and other Tibetan community leaders were briefly detained by police in connection with a memorial service for a former tutor of the Dalai Lama who lived in exile outside Kathmandu. At the same time, a U.S. State Department official visiting from Washington encountered a police presence while visiting a Tibetan settlement. And actions against activities Beijing calls “anti-China” tend to increase around the time of high level China-Nepal meetings. Any activity related to the Tibetan government-in-exile is especially targeted. Last year, Nepalese police seized 10,000 ballots cast in the elections for the exile government’s new Kalon Tripa, or chief minister. Public demonstrations in support of Tibet, ceremonies marking the Dalai Lama’s birthday, and even a Tibetan opera production have been shut down by Nepalese authorities. Conditions for Tibetans in Nepal are not comparable to those in Tibet, but the wave of desperate self-immolations inside Tibet has now spread to exile communities, with incidents in Kathmandu and Delhi.

So far, the issue of the treatment of Tibetans has not become a major concern among Nepalis. “That happens all the time,” I heard more than once from Nepalese political analysts and foreign policy experts. And China’s soft power expansion, including establishing Confucius Institutes in Nepal and courting Nepalese journalists with junkets to China, has had an impact on swaying attitudes. But some Nepalese journalists like Sradda Thapa, a columnist for the daily newspaper Republica, have argued that Nepal’s new democratic political situation ought to result in increased protection for Tibetans. “Did we not get an extensive makeover when the constitutional monarchy was christened a federal democratic republic?” Thapa argued in a November 3 column. “We are a sovereign state and it puzzles my generation—who were taught to value democracy—to witness our government deny the same to Tibetans in Nepal.”

Indeed, Nepal’s response to China’s demands doesn’t just speak to China’s increased influence in the region; it’s also an important indicator of the extent to which Nepal’s fragile democracy will prove capable of maintaining its sovereignty.

Obviously Chinese pressure will continue, but a government less inclined to reflexively favor China (instead of seeking to balance China and India) might not give in to them quite so often. We’ll see.

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Filed under Nepal, refugees, Tibet

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