World / Asia-Pacific

Nepal leaders, experts call for China's active role in SAARC

(Xinhua) Updated: 2014-11-24 10:31

KATHMANDU - As the 18th South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit gets underway in Kathmandu, debate over China's role whether to restrict it to its observer status or allow it to play a more influential role intensifies.

Nepal's politicians and foreign affairs experts almost unanimously propose that China be given a more influential role to play in the SAARC. They even say that it is an insult to keep restricting China to its observer status.

In a recent exclusive interview with Xinhua, Mahendra Bahadur Pandey, minister for foreign affairs, made it clear that Nepal will have no problems if all the SAARC countries agree to turn China into a member state.

Experts suggest that even if all the SAARC countries do not agree upon granting new membership to China straight away, a new arrangement, which allows China to play a more influential role, needs to be worked out.

"Some type of SAARC+1 arrangement needs to be worked out," said Dr Nischal Nath Pandey, director at the Center for South Asian Studies. "It will be an insult to keep China as an observer."

Pandey, widely regarded as one of Nepal's eminent foreign affairs experts, said "EU and China are the most active observers to the SAARC. We cannot lump them up with other observers, some of whom have not done anything."

Dr Minendra Rijal, minister for fnformation and communications, argued that it would be good to allow China to play a more influential role in the SAARC as it enjoys good bilateral relations with all SAARC countries.

Kamal Thapa, chairman of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal, who also served as foreign minister in the past, said that China's active role is beneficial to all the SAARC countries. "We have to recognize China's role in economic development of South Asia," said he.

Ramesh Nath Pandey, former foreign affairs minister, said that China's active presence in the SAARC will not only increase its importance but also quicken the pace of development in the whole region. "The heads of all the SAARC states should find ways to engage China more actively," he suggested.

Nevertheless, some politicians and experts argued that it is yet not right time for inviting China as a member state in the SAARC.

Dr Bhesh Bahadur Thapa, one of Nepal's renowned foreign affairs experts and former foreign minister, said it would be premature to invite China as a SAARC member. "Time (for inviting China as a member state) may come but it is too early to talk of this issue," he said.

The 13th SAARC summit, was held in Bangladesh in 2005, decided to involve China as an observer state. Debate over whether to restrict China to its observer status or allow it to play a more active role has been surrounding every SAARC summit ever since.

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