The surge in Nepal’s Covid -19 pandemic cases is providing a peg to China to take a dig at India.
A recent headline in Global Times read: “Covid-19 epidemic shows who Nepal's good neighbour is”. Another recent headline (05 May) sought attention thus: “Chinese enterprises stand with locals, try to prevent Nepal becoming 'mini-India' in virus cases”.
Global Times is the Chinese tabloid from the stable of People’s Daily, the Communist Party's flagship newspaper. A casual reading of these despatches offers insight into the lengths the Chinese media can go in their propagandist slant with fabrications and disinformation, as a Wikipedia post puts.
There is no denying that Nepal and China have moved close to each other during the past two- three years. Unlike his predecessors, Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli has embraced the Dragon openly to pump prime his China card as a diplomatic tool in regional power politics.
By way of a thank you, the envoy from the land of Confucius tried to secure a “lifeline” for him with some brazen undiplomatic campaign but ended up with bruises since Kathmandu power politics and Beijing Corridor games do not belong to the same page. That is neither here nor there though Beijing refuses to draw lessons, as the despatches in Global Times (GT) testify. Anyhow the Chinese media’s obfuscation is not the subject of this article. Here the focus is on Nepal – China relations at the ground level.
The grim epidemic situation has made some Chinese enterprises in Nepal suspend or delay work but no plan has been made to leave the country for the time being, GT says.
“We decided to postpone the project construction due to the outbreak this time”, a project manager of a Chinese-invested firm was quoted as saying. Another person close to a China-assisted project in Nepal told the Global Times that “government projects will not stop, but they will take measures to advance steadily”. Both were not identified though.
From the narrative, however, it is clear that the GT reporters did not venture out of Kathmandu for their field report. Nor did they bother to look at the local dailies to get a ‘real feel’.
Propaganda needs some hard facts to create a make believe but living in a one-man world, Chinese Communist media apparatchiks do not bother about such basics.
GT may be loath to look at the hard facts but the vibrant Nepali media is not.
The Kathmandu Post has carried a fairly detailed account from Sudurpaschim province in Far Western Nepal on issues concerning people’s livelihood after China closed the border due to Covid -19. It tells about the plight of a couple at Taklakot, 30 km across the international border. It is the first city in Tibet travellers encounter after leaving Nepal.
Karsang and her husband Anga Thapa run a hotel for the benefit of Indian pilgrims on their way to Kailash and Mansarovar. “I used to make a profit of around Rs1.5 million during the pilgrim season,” said Thapa. “After 10 years, I was forced to shutter my hotel”.
The Chinese authorities closed the border in January 2020. And the Thapas returned to Nepal.
“It’s been nearly one and a half years since the pandemic began, and the situation has not changed. The Thapas are wondering when Taklakot will reopen,” Basanta Pratap Singh reported on 03 April.
With the hotel closed, their revenues dried up; and they were forced to mortgage their house to raise cash for household expenses and the school fees of their three children. “Our income is almost zero. If the border does not reopen this year too, I will be ruined.”
The situation is no different at Nepalgunj, a major gateway with more than a dozen luxury hotels.
The border closure has affected a large number of Nepali entrepreneurs and seasonal workers from Bajhang, Humla, Dolpa, Darchula and Mugu.
Around 3,000 people travel to Taklakot for seasonal employment every year. It is their South Korea and Dubai. They earn 100 to 200 yuan (Rs1,800 to Rs3,600) per day working as a labourer, according to Basanta Pratap Singh’s despatch. This income is enough to meet their expenses for the entire year.
People from Mugu, Humla and Bajhang opened more than 40 shops in and around Taklakot to sell wooden utensils. “All the shops are closed and business is dead”.
Making utensils is the main occupation of the Tamang community. They too are sitting idle. Thanks to Chinese decision to arrest Covid -19 surge from Nepal!
Hundreds of seasonal workers from Bajhang, Humla, Dolpa, Darchula and Mugu districts used to work in construction, and other sectors in Taklakot. They are out of work. So are the workers used to harvest and thresh the crops grown in the highlands of Tibet and work in sheep and goat farms.
Seasonal workers earn 150 to 250 Chinese yuan (Nepali Rupees 2,550 - 4,000) daily. Demand for workers increases during April - August before the winter sets in. Nepali workers normally bring home around Rs.500,000 per person, after deducting their living expenses.
“Everything stopped after the border was closed,” says the report.
The Global Times has no place for these harsh facts flowing out of Chinese soil in its fixation with “positive” publicity blitzkrieg.
Nor at least to the 30 March Himalayan Times report that said “China donated eight lakh doses of Vero-cell vaccine and syringes to Nepal, but to bring them home (by chartered flight) the Nepali government spent Rupees 20 million”.
The Chinese government could have foot the transportation bill.
Well, it could have but for that the Chinese envoy in Kathmandu should bother about the flip -side of Dragon diplomacy!