We should urgently promote Chinese language to deepen soft power ties between China and Nepal
He who has a good neighbor, gets a good morning, goes a German proverb. This applies to China’s relation with Nepal. China has always been a good neighbor of Nepal, with our bilateral ties based on friendliness, mutual support and respect for each other’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.
Nepal and China have historical, religious, cultural, economic ties dating back to seventh century when Songtsen Gompo, the 33rd ruler of Tubo kingdom in Tang Dynasty, married Princess Bhrikuti of Lichhavi dynasty from Nepal. She took Nepali culture and Buddhism to China. Nepali artist Araniko went to China and built Buddhist pagodas in Beijing in the 13th century.
Ancient Silk Road ran from Lhasa to Kathmandu to Patna; this was a major trade route between Nepal and China. Yet relations between the two countries seemed to be marked more by formalities than any meaningful interaction because of the Himalayan barrier. So, naturally, Nepal and Nepalis have little interaction with China as compared to their extensive interaction with India.
But traditional barriers are breaking down with the implementation of President Xi Jinping’s signature One Belt and One Road (OBOR) project. This is thus an opportune time for Nepal to strengthen its relation with China. OBOR is projected to link Asia, Africa and much of Europe. Nepal has already signed on OBOR framework, under which Lhasa-Shigatse-Kyirong-Kodari rail-road corridor will be built. This will connect Nepal with Eurasian markets and be a win-win for both Nepal and China.
Enhancing soft power
Soft power—which comprises of culture, language, political values and foreign policy—can be the best tool to enhance relation between Nepal and China. Language can establish link with diverse and distant communities. Thus we need to cooperate to promote each other’s language. Just as a Chinese greeting us with ‘Namaste’ makes us happy, our saying ‘Nin Hao’ to Chinese will please them as much.
Buddhism is another connecting bond between Nepal and China. Approximately 18.2 percent people in China are followers of Buddhism, which originated from Lumbini of Nepal. Many Chinese tourists come to visit Lumbini, which can be further developed as tourist destination for Chinese tourists. This kind of cultural exchanges will help us take our relation to a new height. This, however, is not easy with the language barrier.
With better road connectivity, trade between Nepal and China will increase rapidly. Chinese goods are cheap and affordable for most Nepalis, much more so than Japanese and Indian goods. But, again, we need to be able to better communicate with Chinese business people in order to get maximum benefits from our northern neighbor.
Since the 2015 Indian blockade, Nepalis have learned it the hard way that unless we enhance our trade and transit relations with China, we will forever be at risk of being blockaded again. Enhancing relation with China is important not only to balance our import and export but also for our survival as a nation-state.
We should therefore urgently promote Chinese language to deepen soft power relation between China and Nepal. Already some elementary and middle schools in Nepal have introduced Chinese language classes. We can also start teaching Nepali to Chinese visitors to Nepal.
Many countries—the possible beneficiaries of OBOR project—have started teaching Chinese to their citizens. More and more people will be learning Chinese given the future prospect of global expansion of Chinese markets.
So far our relation with China has been guided by history, trade and commerce. This traditional relation will get a big boost if we also start understanding each other’s languages.
The author is assistant professor at Kathmandu School of Law