Kathmandu, August 15 (NIA): Nepal’s new government headed by Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda, which had come to power with India’s blessings, is trying hard to make up with China, which had been close to the predecessor government headed by K.P.Sharma Oli.
Too woo back China without losing India, Prime Minister Dahal has sent the Deputy Prime Minister and
Finance Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara to Beijing on Monday, aiming to convince Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Kathmandu in November this year as promised to K.P.Sharma Oli earlier this year.
Dahal has also decided to send the other Deputy Prime Minister, Bimalendra Nidhi, to India. Nidhi is flying to New Delhi next week with a mandate to prepare the ground for Dahal’s India visit and invite Indian President Pranab Mukherjee to Kathmandu
Before flying off to Beijing, Mahara told the press that the objective of his visit is to ‘strengthen Nepal-China relations in the changed political context.”
The ouster of Oli’s has cast a shadow over Xi’s visit to Nepal, which wants to reduce its over-dependence on India by reaching out to China. During Oli’s visit to Beijing, Nepal and China had signed a trade and transit deal, and Dahal now faces pressure to implement that pact, without irking India.
Historically, Nepal has always been closer to India, a reflection of their cultural and linguistic affinity, political links, and the unique open border regime that exists between the two countries. But if the growing engagement between Nepal and China, its northern neighbor, in recent years is any indication, Kathmandu may become just as close to Beijing in the near future, writes Kosh Raj Koirala in The Diplomat dated April 28, 2016.
Oli was on a seven-day official visit to Beijing at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang in March this year. He had signed ten different bilateral agreements dealing with free trade, transport connectivity, financial cooperation, and transit facilities through China. The 15-point Joint Statement issued at the end of the visit charts out a number of areas of cooperation that will greatly deepen engagements between the two countries.
Oli’s visit to China took place against the backdrop of a four-month long “unofficial” Indian economic blockade – something India denies orchestrating. The blockade hurt Nepal because 70 percent of Nepal’s trade is with India.
Commenting on Oli’s visit, the Director of a Kathmandu-based think tank, the Center for South Asian Studies (CSAS), Nishchal N. Pandey, said: “This is indeed a historic visit as for the first time the two prime ministers have spoken at length and agreed on the Chinese train from Shigatse to Rasuwagadhi in the Nepal border. Nepal has also for the first time been given transit rights from China.”
Although experts doubt its commercial viability, at least for now, the trade and transit agreement will give the landlocked Himalayan nation a right to trade with third countries through Chinese ports.
But this opening is purely notional now. The nearest Chinese port, Tianjin, is over 3,000 kilometers away from the Nepal-China border, while the distance to the nearest Indian port – Haldiya – is just 1,000 kilometers from the Indo-Nepal border, Koirala notes.
However, since public sentiment in Nepal is general one of antagonism towards India and friendliness towards China, governments in Kathmandu will perforce have to humor Beijing. The fear of over dependence on India among Nepalese is palpable. No government in Kathmandu can ignore this and hope to survive. Therefore, Kathmandu will have to be seen to be moving closer to Beijing. In the process it might be forced to give concessions. This will enable Beijing to drive hard bargains and swinging favorable deals.