Ties with Beijing doesn’t mean alienating Delhi
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (right) upon arrival at Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu, on Tuesday (2 Dec). Jiechi is on a three-day visit to Nepal. On the left is Foreign Minister
By Akhilesh Upadhyay
Kathmandu has seen a flurry of high-profile visits in recent weeks. None more so than that of Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, who arrived on Tuesday (2 Dec) and his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukhherjee who was here last week.
There is some nervousness in various quarters in Kathmandu about these hectic diplomatic activities and conspiracy theories are doing frenzied rounds. Is the Maoist-led government coming down? Is the peace process falling apart? And worse still, is Nepal turning into a battleground for contending foreign powers, not least India and China, both emerging world powers? The Cold War mind-set continues to haunt.
It need not be.
“We should get rid of the old-school mindset,” suggests Rajan Bhattarai, a member of the CPN-UML’s Foreign Department. “The relationship with one nation doesn’t mean cozying up to harm the other.”
That’s especially so in the new interdependent world where the recession in the United States hurts retail exporters in India and China. Economic downturn in Europe results in less number of high-end tourists in Nepal.
But clearly there is more to the recent thaw in regional ties than just economic interdependence. The warming of ties between India and China gives Nepal a huge leverage to deepen and sustain stronger ties with both of them. Both the Chinese and Indian tolerance threshold for Nepal’s aspirations has increased since the cold war days of the 60s and 70s. Nepal, as a sovereign nation, has the right to deepen its relationship with its neighbours and one relationship doesn’t have to come at the cost of the other, a point Mukherjee made in his Nov. 27 press conference in Kathmandu.
That, however, doesn’t mean that the two emerging giants don’t have thresholds at all.
In his visit to Kathmandu, Mukherjee reportedly relayed a few messages to key Nepali actors. In his two meetings with the prime minister, the Indian foreign minister stressed that the peace process should be managed by Nepali actors. New Delhi seems firm about not giving UNMIN a third extension and broadening its original mandate — providing assistance to the Constituent Assembly elections and monitoring the management of arms and the armies.
“The first one has been done with,” says a Nepali Congress central committee leader. “Delhi thinks UNMIN has a role to play now in overseeing the management of arms and the armies. But it’s definitely against any kind of political role for UNMIN in army integration or talks with Tarai groups.”
According to this understanding, external actors could provide logistical support in the integration/rehabilitation of Maoist combatants. But it is the Nepalis who will decide the political parameters of the peace process and integration/rehabilitation.
New Delhi also wants to see a greater role for the Nepali Congress in the peace process. It is said to have expressed its displeasure to the prime minister over the constitution of the Army Integration Special Committee (AISC), where CPN (Maoist) holds two seats, against one each by three other major parties — NC, UML and Madheshi Janadhikar Forum.
In his two meetings with Prime Minister Dahal, Mukherjee reportedly stressed that “institutionalisation of multiparty democracy” should be at the heart of the peace process and the constitution making process, a point stressed in the 12-point agreement signed by the Maoists and the SPA in 2005.
New Delhi fears the Maoists got what they wanted from the political parties — the Constituent Assembly elections, removal of monarchy and establishment of a republic — and could now deviate from their core commitment to multiparty democracy.
While New Delhi wants Nepali Congress to join the government, it has been careful not to push for a deadline and risk upsetting the power balance and being seen as an overbearing neighbour, says an official who closely followed Mukherjee’s visit. The reading is that the CPN (Maoist), still fighting ideological battles within, would not be helped in its movement toward changing its political behaviour by perceived external interventions. With all the uproar between the hard-line and pragmatist factions these past few weeks, Delhi, however, still believes that PM Dahal is firmly in charge of the party. “Yes, the situation in Nepal is very fragile,” says UML’s Bhattarai. “Yes, external and internal dynamics are volatile. But we can turn that to our advantage too. For now, we must get rid of the old-school mindset of reading the international community’s concerns as sinister threats.”
Akhilesh Upadhyay is the Editor of the Kathmandu Post where this article appeared today.
One World, (and Yes) One China
Leading a 10-member delegation, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi arrived in Kathmandu on Tuesday (2 Dec) evening on a three-day goodwill visit. Minister for Foreign Affairs Upendra Yadav welcomed Minister Jiechi at the Tribhuvan International Airport. In a dinner hosted in honour of his Chinese counterpart, Minister Yadav said, “Nepal upholds the principle of one-China policy.” He also expressed happiness over China’s support and cooperation during the transition period. Yadav thanked China for its continued support in building Nepal’s infrastructure over the decades.
In his speech, Chinese Foreign Minister Jiechi noted the progress Nepal has made in the peace process and lauded Nepalis for holding Constituent Assembly elections successfully. He also acknowledged Nepal’s one-China policy. Minister Jiechi recalled Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s visit to China during the Olympic-closing ceremony in August and the number of high-level bilateral visits between the two countries in recent times.
The visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jeichi, the first by China’s top diplomat since Nepal’s political changes, holds “special significance,” analysts say. It’s been a while since China sent such a senior official to Nepal. The last Chinese foreign minister to visit Nepal was Li Zhaoxing, who was here in April, 2005, following the royal takeover.
“China is greatly interested in the political changes in Nepal,” said Rajan Bhattarai, a member of the CPN-UML’s Foreign Department. “After the abolition of monarchy, China has lost its traditional and stable friend. It is now looking to strengthen ties with the political parties.”
The ruling CPN (Maoist) said it hopes that the visit of top Chinese diplomat will be fruitful in leading the peace process to conclusion and development. “After joining the peace process, our party has built a direct and formal relationship with the Chinese Communist Party,” said Maoist leader Agni Sapkota. “In recent past, China has adopted a policy of extending even more cooperation.”
But China has a history of supporting whoever is in power, say some. Nepali Congress leader Narayan Khadka claimed that China had the policy of supporting “the government of the day” and said Maoists will not get special treatment from the Chinese government. “One or two agreements or announcement of economic assistance during such high-level visits is diplomatic tradition,” he said. “China will not have special relationships with the Maoists.” According to Bhattarai, Beijing is also concerned with the increasing activities of India and U.S. in Nepal and is serious about not letting any anti-China activities take place in Nepal. Khadka too is of the opinion that anti-China protests by Tibetans will be of special concern to China. Both Sapkota and Khadka said that China is here to endorse the political changes, but the ongoing peace process will be discussed with the Nepali side, according to Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials.
Former Nepalese ambassador to China Rajeshwor Acharya also said the visiting Chinese diplomat will be interested in discussing relationship of two countries in a changed context. “He has come to promote the national interest of his country,” said Acharya. “The visit has a high political value as such high-ranking officials rarely come here.” On the face of it, however, the three-day goodwill visit seems largely to focus on issues of bilateral cooperation. Shyamananda Suman, the adviser to Foreign Minister Upendra Yadav, said, “We have more economic and technical agendas than political issues for this visit.”
Indeed the talks between the two foreign ministers will focus on Chinese assistance to Nepal, according to MoFA officials. During his stay, he is also scheduled to meet President Ram Baran Yadav and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal.