Concern in Nepal as China tries to ‘develop’ Buddha legacy


Kathmandu : A Chinese NGO’s claim that it has signed a memorandum of understanding to develop the birthplace of the Buddha, a town in southern Nepal, has triggered controversy and concern in Nepal with key ministries expressing ignorance of the deal.

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China’s state media reported this month that a Hong Kong-based NGO, the Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation, had signed a memorandum of understanding with UN Industrial Development Organisation to develop Lumbini town in southern Nepal where the Buddha was born into a “special cultural zone”.

The $3 billion project reportedly aims to build hotels, convention centres, railways and even an international airport at Lumbini.

However, though Lumbini lies in Nepal, the government of Nepal was not a party to the memorandum, nor does it have any formal knowledge of the project.

Reacting to the reports, Nepal’s culture ministry Thursday said it had no knowledge about the MoU or official intimation of the plans.

The culture ministry is entrusted with developing Lumbini through the Lumbini Development Trust and any foreign collaboration in the project has to be cleared by the foreign ministry of Nepal.

Also, since Lumbini is a Unesco-declared world heritage site, any modifications or additions made to the original masterplan to develop the town have to be approved by the UN cultural body.

“We are the direct stakeholders in Lumbini’s development (and yet) we got to know (only) through the media that an MoU was signed in Beijing,” culture ministry spokesman Modraj Dottel told the Kathmandu Post Thursday.

“The MoU lacks transparency,” the official added. “…I guess the highest UN bodies in Geneva and New York were also not informed.”

Nepal’s foreign ministry held a meeting Wednesday to consider the Chinese NGO’s action and said the MoU should have been a tripartite one.

The ministry said it had nothing to do with a project that rode roughshod over the host country.

Nepal’s civil society is also questioning the controversial project and the organisation involved in it.

“Why is the industrial development arm of the UN involved rather than Unesco, the designated agency to oversee Lumbini as a world heritage site?” asked Kanak Mani Dixit, editor of Himal Khabarpatrika in an article carried in the Republica daily Thursday.

“Why are all the relevant ministries of the government of Nepal as well as the Lumbini Development Trust clueless abut the memorandum?”

Dixit wondered if there wasn’t a “whiff of extra-territoriality when two alien entities sign a document in Beijing without official Nepali participation”.

The Chinese Foundation is a little known organisation whose co-chairmen include, among many other disparate people, Nepal’s Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and controversial trigger-happy former crown prince Paras.

In the past, the same Foundation sponsored two clandestine controversial visits by Prachanda to Singapore and Malaysia, where he is believed to have met Chinese officials secretly.