As Indian and Chinese rescue teams work alongside in Gongabu — a neighbourhood in Kathmandu battered by the April 25 quake — comparisons are being drawn between the two Asian powerhouses, even as officials on both sides brushed aside talk of a proxy aid war.
Nepal is sandwiched between India and China and the two have used aid and investment to court Kathmandu for years.
Beijing dispatched a 69-member rescue team to Nepal on Sunday, a day after India’s National Disaster Response (NDRF) launched its operations.
Nepal army chief General Gaurav SJB Rana told HT in an exclusive interview that the Chinese were doing a good job but the Indians blended in more easily.
China’s rescue workers seem to have trouble connecting with the locals but that can be attributed to the language and cultural barrier.
Locals seem to be more at ease with the Indian teams. Kamal Bhandari, a guest house owner, said five of his family — including two children aged seven and nine — were buried in a building assigned to the Chinese rescue team. “They seemed to be more interested in videography and smoking cigarettes,” he said.
A senior Indian official said, “I wouldn’t criticise them for their work but they are seen as a bit aloof. Language is another barrier”. An NDRF official said a Chinese rescue team visited Hotel Tanhu Byas — one of the buildings in which Indians are working — along with some journalists to shoot a video of themselves but were politely asked to leave.
Nepal police constable DB Lepcha said the Chinese would turn down requests made by him and his colleagues to visit the location under them. “We are more comfortable with the Indians,” said S Giri, another policeman, deployed in Gongabu.
The NDRF is at an advantage compared to the Chinese rescue force as it has had more international exposure. It was deployed to Japan after the devastating tsunami in 2011.
There’s a growing sense among the Nepalese people that foreign governments are steering the rescue and relief effort while their own government has been rendered a spectator.
China, however, rejected suggestions of a proxy aid war in Nepal. A foreign ministry spokesman said it was willing to “pro-actively coordinate with India on aid”.
Zhang Chunxiang, a former Chinese ambassador to Pakistan who was envoy during the 2005 Pakistan quake, also said there was “no competition”.
However, despite the apparent bonhomie, Nepalese authorities have told Indian officials they do not require more NDRF teams — three are on standby in Delhi.
The Nepalese Army has also asked the NDRF to move its nerve centre to another location within the Kali Prasad combat engineering battalion.