By Ritu Raj Subedi (KATHMANDU, 9 August 2019) – The ruling Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) has pinned high hopes on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for achieving prosperity in the country. The first political document, released following the unification of the erstwhile CPN-Unified Marxist-Leninist and CPN-Maoist, stated that the success of BRI programme and other China-led institutions has weakened the hegemony of Western powers. The CPN-led government is pushing through the BRI projects aimed at boosting connectivity, infrastructure development, investment, trade and people-to-people exchanges.
In 2017, the then CPN-Maoist chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda-led government had signed a Memorandum of Understanding on BRI with China to reduce Nepal’s excessive dependency on India in the wake of 2015 Indian embargo on Nepal. With 800,000 members, the CPN leads a strong government with sweeping electoral mandate. It is poised to deliver peace, stability and rapid development as the people have nurtured high expectations from the communist government with two-thirds majority in the federal parliament. It has also formed six state governments out of seven.
The CPN’s political dossier has appreciated China’s peaceful rise while criticising the West-led corporate capitalism blamed for rising inequality, economic crisis and climate change across the globe. Under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the country succeeded to lift over 700 million people out of poverty in the last four decades since it opened up to the outer world and carried out sweeping reforms. The CPN has termed the BRI as a new development concept and hailed other China-driven initiatives such as BRICS and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
Unveiled as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature global project in 2013, it has been participated in by around 152 nations and international organisations. The trillion dollar initiative aims to connect Asia, Africa, Europe and Americas by road, sea and air. Under the framework, the BRI-participating countries get soft loans and grants to build their critical infrastructure, industries and cultural relations. The BRI projects are moving full steam ahead in many nations at a time when the economic globalisation process has hit the roadblocks. China is bringing into use its capital, technology and construction and managerial skills to promote economic development and trade on the global scale.
“The People’s Republic of China has made a quantum leap in the economic realm as the world’s fiscal capitalism is reeling from serious crisis and recession. It has embarked on the path of socialist reconstruction and is going to be the world’s largest economic power in the near future,” stated the CPN’s document, adding that China’s miraculous achievement is a source of inspiration as ‘monopoly capitalism’ has converted many countries into the chains of market. The CPN speaks highly of the leadership of CPC for its economic feat, but it has failed to demonstrate necessary political will and urgency to select major projects to be implemented under the BRI framework despite leading a powerful government. A sense of indifference on the part of political and bureaucratic leadership has been largely attributed to the inordinate delay in giving momentum to the BRI in the Himalayan nation.
Critics point to undue geopolitical pressure, especially from India and Western nations behind the snail-paced progress of BRI projects in Nepal. The spectre of ‘debt trap’ theory has also held sway on a certain section of political circles. The CPN, for all its oscillation, has expressed solidarity with communist China, stating that the former must be aware of the ‘encirclement’ against its northern neighbour. It has underlined the need for keeping an eye on the conflicts on the sea routes such as South China Sea and Straits of Malacca, increasing presence of US military in the Pacific and Indian Ocean, and ploys aimed at aborting the BRI and intensifying so-called free Tibet activities. However, the CPN document does not mention the 2015 Indian blockade and US-led Indo-Pacific Strategy.
The CPN has said that big political movements, including Chinese New Democracy Revolution, have contributed to creative development of Marxism. The CPC has now embraced Xi Jinping Thought incorporated in the Chinese constitution. The CPN-CPC relations date back to 1951 when the central committee elected from its first convention decided to send politburo member Gauri Bhakta Pradhan to China for formally starting fraternal relations with the CPC. In 1956, a 3-member CPN delegation, led by general secretary Mana Mohan Adhikari, visited China. Adhikari had stayed there for three years for the treatment of his leprosy.
It is worth mentioning here that the central committee had selected the leader of the delegation through a voting. Adhikari beat Pushpa Lal by one vote. Pushpa Lal was apparently fussed over the decision to send Adhikari and refused to accept the position of acting general secretary of the party in Adhikari’s absence. Then the baton was passed to Dr Keshar Jung Raymajhi who tilted to kingship, triggering the splits in the communist party into many groups.
In early 1980s, general secretary of CPN-Marxist-Leninist CP Mainali led a two-member team to China that included incumbent Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Ishwor Pokharel at the invitation of CPC. “The CPC has maintained a friendly bond with Nepali communist parties through mutual cooperation and exchanges between the leaders of two nations,” said Mainali, adding that Nepal looks to China for economic development. Mainali and Pokharel had held talks with the head of CPC international department.
At that time CPN-ML still followed violent strategy of revolution but the Chinese communist leaders did not pass their judgement on its tactic. “The CPC leaders neither supported nor objected to our tactic of revolution,” said Mainali. He said that the Chinese leaders asked them to be serious about their strategic move. “It is up to you to decide the ideological course of the party,” Mainali quoted the Chinese leaders. The ML team had gone to China immediately after Nepal held a referendum regarding a choice between reformed Panchayat system or multiparty democracy. The result of the plebiscite had gone in favour of the Panchayat by a narrow margin. The ML, however, had boycotted the referendum, drawing criticisms from the pro-democracy campaigners.
(Deputy Executive Editor of The Rising Nepal, Subedi writes regularly on politics, foreign affairs and other contemporary issues)