Gopal Khanal (KATHMANDU, 14 July 2022) – Liu Jianchao, the recently appointed Head of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) International Liaison Department (ILD), returned to Beijing on Wednesday after a frenetic and thorough four-day visit to Nepal.
Liu had come in Kathmandu on the invitation of the Nepal government on July 10. He began holding political talks with Nepal’s high-level dignitaries and the leaders of the major political parties as soon as he arrived.
As the leader of the People’s Republic of China chose to visit Nepal first as his foreign sojourn, the major parties of Nepal responded to him with high importance by receiving him at the VVIP lounge of the international airport by the senior leaders. In other words, the parties demonstrated a national consensus to welcome the Chinese leader. This is the positive facet of Nepali politics. Despite the utter hatred being expressed against each other, the parties do not exhibit conflict while welcoming foreign guests at home.
He called on Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and met with the Minister of External Affairs, Narayan Khadka. Similarly, he held meetings with the chiefs of the major parties and former prime ministers and discussed a range of issues, including bilateral as well as international concurrencies.
China has delivered a clear statement that it would not be a passive spectator in the operations that endanger her backyard at a time when the US has been strategically maneuvering in Nepal for over two years. This visit might be interpreted as Beijing’s signal to the US that it will maintain a close eye on Nepal.
The US appears to have escalated its actions in Nepal after Nepal authorized the $500 million project funded under the MCC by the House of Representatives (HoR) around five months ago. Furthermore, the US’s strong diplomacy in Nepal has given China enough grounds to respond aggressively.
The troubling picture is that both the US and China have been waging a “cold war” against Nepal’s sovereign decisions on bilateral issues that do not necessarily elicit third-party attention. Projects and initiatives such as MCC, BRI, and SPP are examples of how Washington and Beijing have fought on Nepali soil, making Nepal a “proxy land.”
The Chinese leader held a meeting with Prachanda, Chair of the Nepal Communist Party (Maoist Centre), in the latter’s residence, and Prachanda hosted a dinner. Similarly, he held a luncheon meeting with KP Sharma Oli in Balkot for almost four hours. The Chinese delegation also met former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal, both of the newly formed party, Unified Socialist. On the last day, he called on the President of Nepal, Bidhya Devi Bhandari.
What transpired between the Nepali leaders and the Chinese delegation has not been officially made public, but it is quite understandable that both sides might have discussed the issues of common concern and expressed joint commitment to address both the challenges and opportunities.
Looking at the very concurrent situation resulting from the “verbal war” between the US and China, the Chinese leader tried to convey the genuine interest of China in Nepal and also assured its whole-hearted support to Nepal in economic and strategic areas too.
According to the sources, who had attended the meetings as a member of a delegation of their parties, the Chinese leader’s major concerns can be divided into four areas. This commentary presents these four areas.
Not assurance, but action in ‘One China’ Policy
The leader asked that the Nepali government and political parties reaffirm their support for the “One China” policy. In each meeting, the leader praised Nepal’s “One China” policy, but he also believed that the policy will be firmly enforced in the coming days. As usual, the Chinese side believed that Nepal would not allow anti-China activities through its territory. It should be mentioned that the Chinese side has been keeping a careful eye on the United States’ growing presence in Nepal. The Prime Minister and the other authorities assured the Chinese leader that Nepal’s common national policy of “One China” would be followed.
Chinese officials, on the other hand, have assured Nepal of their support and cautioned that joining any military alliance would risk China’s security. The Chinese side may have been attempting to read the Nepali mindset in the midst of the US’s expanding interest in Nepal. In a broader sense, this visit is part of China’s worldwide counter-move against the US, where Washington plays a strategic role.
The international power balance is moving towards Asia, where China is already a major player. To counter China’s ascent, the United States has been strengthening its position. The development of China is the biggest threat to the United States, which is steadily losing control of the American continent and Europe. It is clear that the US is attempting to halt China’s growing momentum in order for the latter to stay a superpower for more than a decade.
Implementing Peripheral Diplomacy
Chinese President Xi Jinping has stressed engaging with China’s neighbors through “peripheral diplomacy,” similar to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Neighborhood First” approach. This visit is an important component of China’s periphery diplomacy, which expresses China’s support for its neighbors in areas determined by the latter nations.
The Chinese authorities have said that they have a policy of “Shared Development, Shared Destiny” with surrounding nations, in which they do not impose China’s model and respect the domestic models of the individual countries. True, President Xi has abandoned the doctrine of “hide your power, bid your time” instituted by the architect of the new China, Deng Xioping, in favor of “show your strength, manage your time.” This suggests that the existing China would strive toward its aim through supporting impoverished nations.
It appears that China seeks peace and stability on the periphery and is attempting to drive the US away from the Indo-Pacific, a new hotspot of global power rivalry.
Demonstrating Multiparty Engagement
In Nepal, China has pursued a multiparty and multi-layered engagement strategy. The CPC has maintained equal contacts with all of Nepal’s political parties, whether they call themselves communists, democrats, or conservatives. One must recall Beijing’s 2005 strategy, which backed monarchy until the very end, when it was abandoned by political parties and the people. Following the collapse of the monarchy, China implemented a new strategy of multiparty and multilayered involvement, which has so far proven effective. The Chinese representative informed Prime Minister Deuba of their support for his development efforts, and they also discussed about party-to-party relations.
The leader sent a strong message to the Nepali Congress leadership by visiting the BP museum at Sundarijal, where BP Koirala was held by the oppressive Panchayati raj.
Sympathy to Communists
In his individual conversations with the four former Prime Ministers of communist background, Liu did not suggest that the communists of Nepal should be unified; rather, he desired that the communists may become a greater power in Nepal if they joined. The CPC has strong connections with all of Nepal’s main parties, but the concept has been that the communist parties in Nepal may form a single, dominant party so that China finds it easier to work with. The leader recognizes the communist parties’ role in preventing the State Partnership Program (SPP), but cautions that if the US imposes such a program on Nepal and attempts to make Nepal a military alliance with the US, Beijing would forcefully oppose US hegemony.
It makes sense for Nepalese communists to be closer to China. However, it is also true that Nepalese communist leaders have always put their petty interests at first. As a result, China could not have placed complete faith in Nepal’s communist parties and leadership.