Diplomatic fault lines: China, India and the rush to give aid to quake-hit Nepal

China and India's rapid response to the disaster in Nepal reflects a bigger drive for influence

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 May, 2015, 11:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 May, 2015, 11:35pm


Regional rivals India and China have been quick to offer aid to Nepal since a devastating magnitude-7.8 earthquake hit the capital Kathmandu last Saturday.

But the efforts are not just humanitarian, they also have diplomatic implications as the two powers jockey for influence in South Asia, analysts say.

So far, China has sent about 300 personnel to the Himalayan country and offered about US$10 million in aid. It has also dispatched tonnes of emergency relief supplies and sent military aircraft to help with the rescue efforts there.

Observers said the aid was mainly triggered by humanitarian concerns, but also reflected Beijing's efforts to shore up its influence in Nepal. "This reflects China's eagerness to boost ties with Nepal, especially as it is pushing the 'One Belt, One Road' initiative, and considers building a railway between Tibet and Nepal," said Zhao Gancheng , from the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.

Zhao said China's influence in Nepal had grown steadily in the last few years and even though India still had great political and cultural sway in the Himalayan country, China's presence had become more obvious.

China became Nepal's biggest foreign investor last year and the Nepali government awarded a contract to China's Three Gorges International Corp to build a US$1.6 billion hydropower project. Chinese engineers are also building Nepal's first eight-lane highway.

But India has also wasted no time offering aid. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to "wipe the tears of every Nepali" while the country's air force alone has sent 950 personnel and dropped more than 400 tonnes of supplies across the country.

Modi has made it clear since his election in May last year that boosting India's influence in its backyard is a priority.

Philip Yang, director of the Association of International Relations in Taiwan, said: "Both China and India are fighting to shore up their influence with Kathmandu due to the strategic value of Nepal." Despite its small size, Nepal is strategically important as a buffer between India and Tibet. For the Chinese, Nepal is a key part of its new Silk Road project to link Asia with Europe.

Yang said that in addition to showing that it was the boss in the region, China also wanted to show that it was meeting its international obligation to aid small countries now that it has become a world power.

China has in the past come under criticism for a sluggish response to humanitarian crises, including Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013 when it initially offered just US$100,000.

Indian analyst Amitabh Mattoo said this time China seemed to be upping the ante.

"China is using aid and help in Nepal as an instrument of its foreign policy," said Mattoo, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Beijing has swept aside any suggestion it is being overshadowed by its rival in the quake zone, although it says it is planning to "intensify our efforts in disaster relief".

Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing on Thursday that "the assistance shows that all the Asian countries are part of the community of common destiny and we will work together with Nepal to help them rebuild their homeland as soon as possible".

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse