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Green Left Weekly July 14, 2004

NEPAL: Beijing pledges to help suppress Maoist rebels

By Eva Cheng

Following a mid-June visit to Beijing, Nepal's chief of army staff General Pyar Jung Thapa revealed to state radio and television that China would step up "security cooperation" with Nepal. This will improve Katmandu's ability to militarily counter the anti-monarchy insurgency that was started in 1996.

Leading that offensive is the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). The CPN(M) describes its armed struggle as a "people's war" that has extended to most parts of Nepal.

While in Beijing for a week, Thapa held talks with top military officials such as China's defence minister General Cao Gangchuan, and General Liang Guanglie, chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army. Neither side has revealed the extent of China's military assistance to Nepal.

However, on June 16, the official Xinhua News Agency reported: "[General] Liang spoke highly of the bilateral ties between China and Nepal and their armies. relations between the two armed forces also witnessed continuous development."

Xinhua added: "The Nepalese people thanked China for its support in time of need and hoped to increase cooperation with China in the fight against terrorism and other fields."

To decode, "the Nepalese people" here refers to Katmandu's ruling regime, with its highly interventionist monarchy, and "terrorism" includes any activities that threaten or undermine this ruling oligarchy. Top of Katmandu's list of threats in recent years is the rising military challenge of the Nepalese Maoists.

In a March 25 statement, the CPN(M) chairperson Prachanda explained the goals of his party's struggle by stating, "The old state wants to confine the sovereign right of the people in the hands of the feudal king and emperors, just as in the medieval age, whereas our Party wants to establish the fundamental right of the people practically".

Nepal's ruling class came mainly from northern India, and brought with it a highly oppressive caste system. The bulk of the Nepali Maoists' followers are from the lower castes.

The CPN(M)'s guerrilla offensive in mountainous Nepal shows every sign of enjoying mass support. Its successful weapons raids have shown access to superior intelligence about troops movements, and have put it in a strong position against the poorly equipped" royal army".

In its March 25 statement, the CPN(M) reiterated its willingness to accept United Nation mediation to end the civil war, which has spread to at least 50 of Nepal's 75 districts. A 2004 globalsecurity.org study reported that the Nepalese Maoists control seven such districts and have significant presence in 17 others.

In May 2002, Nepalese prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba launched a campaign to solicit military help overseas. Apart from India, a traditional source of assistance, Katmandu has also received some assistance from the US (US$20 million in the 2002 financial year plus "military training"), and Britain. Belgium has also been selling Nepal weaponry.

Beijing has been providing Nepal with economic aid since 1956, totalling US$1.5 billion as at July 2002. However, China's military assistance to Nepal is rarely publicised. The last known major military transaction between the two countries took place in 1988, under which Nepal imported anti-aircraft guns and other weapons from China. India, which has a dominating 1950 "peace and friendship" treaty with Nepal and a 1962 border war with China, took offence at this. It punished its tiny land-locked neighbour in 1989 with a trade and transit blockade, lasting 15 months.

Beijing is acutely aware of Nepal's strategic importance to its western frontier. The tiny Himalayan country of around 23 million people is sandwiched between Chinese Tibet and India. It is the main conduit through which hundreds of thousands of Tibetans fled to India and has become the home of an estimated 30,000 Tibetans in exile.

Nepal's further evolution into a haven for Tibetans will greatly help the Nepalese struggle for independence. It will also weaken Nepal's role as a buffer zone for China from India. Delhi's increasing military co-operation with George Bush's US regime after 9/11 has increased Beijing's sense of vulnerability.

Despite its Maoist identification, the CPN(M) has not won Beijing's blessing. By the time the CPN(M) was formed, Beijing had led China some way into a pro-capitalist transformation in which revolutionary solidarity has little relevance.

Even earlier, Beijing's foreign policy had hardly been driven by solidarity. In the early 1970s, for example, the privileged bureaucracy that had already come to dominate government in Beijing put its desire to appease Washington ahead of the need to support progressive struggles.

After the Yahya Khan dictatorship's early 1971 mass slaughter of the Bengalese in what was then east Pakistan, Chinese leader Zhou Enlai extended unreserved support to Khan. Zhou even called the struggle of the 75 million Bengalese, the quest of "a handful of individuals".

In March 1971, the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party also launched a bloody repression of a fast developing mass youth organisation, the People's Liberation Front (JVP), that was then mobilising young people against the bourgeois parties' betrayals. Thousands of JVP supporters were killed. Zhou soon wrote to the SLFP, congratulating it for having brought under control "the chaotic situation created by a handful of persons who style themselves as 'Guevarist' and into whose ranks foreign spies have sneaked.".

Copyright 2004, Green Left Weekly