By Trilok Sharma (KATHMANDU, 29 March 2017) – Despite Delhi’s green signal and Beijing willingness to welcome, Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ all of a sudden got urged to make visit of northern neighbor. With this visit he seems to be in a mood to give quick message to Chinese President Xi Jinping that he still has few drops of communist blood left in his body and has not become completely pro-Indian yet as Beijing believes before he is ousted by Nepali Congress Party President Sher Bahadur Deuba in less than two-month from now.
As this visit was taking place without even a minimum level of preparation from Nepal’s side and foreign minister Dr. Prakash Sharan Mahat had already informed that no any major agreements will be signed, the expectation from this visit was very low which has now proven true.
The week-long visit has now ended on Wednesday with no significant progress in standstill Nepal-China relations as no landmark agreement was inked.
Prem Sagar Poudel, chair of Nepal-China Mutual Cooperation Society, who came back to Kathmandu from Beijing after holding meeting with Chinese think tanks on recent developments on Nepal-China relations just few days ago before Prachanda set his journey in that direction, shared Chinese side perception with writer as, “Beijing is not happy with U- turn attitude of Prachanda and considers him as a ‘power crazy and opportunist’ politician. The only way left for him to win again Beijing trust is to follow Oli path and sign some landmark deals with strong commitment on implementation of previous agreements signed by Oli with China.”
Sadly, if Poudel is right, Prachanda has really missed the golden chance to erase the Chinese tag ‘power crazy and opportunist’ from his forehead.
Some seven months ago The Global Times, the mouthpiece paper of Communist Party of China, had blamed Prachanda for taking part in Delhi’s ploy to topple former PM KP Sharma Oli led China friendly government after Delhi promised him to make next PM of Nepal in support Nepali Congress. Since then Prachanda was on close watch list of Beijing.
As Oli had denied to amend constitution as per Delhi’s interest and had inked a landmark trade and transit agreement during his official visit to China, ending Nepal’s reliance on Indian products, Delhi was in search of right man here in Kathmandu to replace Oli. After several months of covert and overt efforts jointly by Delhi and the then Indian ambassador Ranjit Rae, they finally found anti-Indian Maoist leader Prachanda ready for their ‘India friendly Nepali PM’ mission.
Due to Prachanda’s previous anti-Indian behavior that he had exhibited during his first premiership in 2008-2009, Delhi reluctantly chose him this time for the top post as its trusted man Baburam Bhattarai had already walked out of Prachanda led Maoist Centre party.
Previously, within a week after being elected as first Prime Minister of Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal in August 2008, Prachanda decided to go China as his first foreign visit under the pretext of closing ceremony of Beijing Olympics, the only PM in the history doing so. This was the first step that Prachanda had taken at that time to take Nepal away India’s control.
Since the initiation of diplomatic ties between two countries, there is a tradition that newly sworn Nepal’s PM should make India as his first foreign destination.
Interestingly, even pro-Chinese labeled his current predecessor Oli too had chosen to go India as his first foreign visit during the mid of his tenure.
During China’s visit, the then his counterpart Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had congratulated Prachanda for swearing as prime minister and praised the social system and way of development Nepal had chosen according to its situation. For Prachanda this new social system was not socialist communism that China has but ‘Prachandapath’, an ism that Prachanda and his the then party CPN-Maoist were boasting to be the only path for peace and prosperity of Nepal. For them all other existing major political forces were outdated and controlled by Delhi.
Ignoring the debt of Delhi to initiate and make success decade long bloody insurgency, during his first Premiership Prachanda made one after another effort to bring Nepal closer to China.
For instance- he strongly supported China’s wish of extending high speed railway track up to Lumbini, during his China visit. Also, during his party another leader Baburam Bhattarai premiership in 2012, he made a deal to bring three billion dollars loan for the development of Lumbini from China-backed Asia Pacific Exchange Cooperation Foundation.
Even a year ago during the time of five-month long unofficial blockade from September 2015 to February 2016 during former PM Oli led government, Prachanda was making anger filled statements against Delhi’s interference in Nepal’s internal affairs and independent practice of Nepal’s foreign policy.
And, now the same Prachanda after assuming PM office with Delhi’s support some seven months ago has now fallen in deep love with yesterday’s nation enemy. In this short seven month period, he issued a 25-point joint statement during his official visit to India in September last year in which point eleven reads ‘both the countries hold similar views on major international issues. It means government led by him has no right to support any foreign affairs issue which is not in the interest of Delhi.
Also, he repeatedly denied to meet with Chinese delegates and made excuses to appear in programs related with Nepal-China relation, his foreign ministry delayed many weeks to answer the Beijing’s letter seeking Nepal’s clear stance on Belt and Road initiative and his government did not make even a small effort in the direction of implementing the popular agreements signed by former PM Oli, not even the railway connectivity one which he had strongly advocated during his 2008 visit.
And, now at eleventh hour of his tenure amid ongoing Madhes unrest, at a time when his counterpart Li Keqiang is on a foreign trip of Australia and New Zealand from March 26 to 29, he suddenly got urged make goodwill visit to China.
The situation here in Nepal is so critical that if government fails address the demands of agitating Madhes based parties by amending constitution on time, this will not only slim the chance of local election of May 14 which is going to take place after long gap of 19 years, and other two- provincial and parliamentary elections after that, but may prolong transitional politics risking the failure of newly promulgated constitution.
As Beijing had invited PM Prachanda to take part only in annual conference Bao Forum for Asia -2017, where he could have send Deputy Prime Minister or former Prime Ministers like that of most of the participating nations. But his decision to go himself to attend the conference leaving nation in political turmoil and to hold the short 15-minute friendly meeting with Chinese President Xi as previously scheduled, indeed keeps a deep meaning for political analysts.
Certainly, there are some valid reasons behind this for which the discussion is going on in political and diplomatic circle both within nation and beyond.
As the tenure of Prachanda government just is coming to end shortly after the local election of May 14, neither the Nepali Congress nor the Delhi will waste time and brain in replacing him from PM post now.
Prachanda believes this visit may once again help him to take into confidence the unhappy leaders and cadres of his party Maoist Centre who are either silent, angry or in a mood to change party after he pushed himself in Delhi arms betraying widely admired former PM Oli.
After seeing Prachanda’s true color of nationalism, thousands of local level leaders and cadres have already quitted Maoist Centre and have joined other political parties.
Feared from the result of upcoming local, provincial and parliamentary elections, Prachanda chose this China card to woo voters and make his party strong again. At the same time, he is also cautious not to disappoint Delhi by singing any long term impact having agreement with Beijing. Just to make cheap lip service with sweet sentences like – ‘Our government is committed to One China Policy. Nepal wants to be part of President Xi’s Belt and Road mega project. Our government is committed to implement agreements inked by former PM Oli. Our government is eager to welcome Chinese President Xi. ’ After all, he has nothing to lose or risk in doing so.
What Prachanda is doing is his trick to fool Beijing and may add some light to his tinted party image, but his government has already gone through severe diplomatic failure by compromising on nation’s foreign policy with Delhi and practicing the diplomacy of ‘No’ with China.
With now end of his visit, Prachanda has missed the last golden opportunity left to confess his government diplomatic failure and ink major deals better than Oli with Beijing having potential to lead Nepal in the path of peace and prosperity in short span of time. But as he did nothing so, surely he will regret in the days to come.
Also, as Beijing is fully aware of this trick, it will certainly advised President Xi not to make visit of Nepal during the current tenure of PM Prachanda.
Sharma is an executive member of Nepal-China Mutual Cooperation Society (NCMCS).