Since the present government was formed some nine months ago, it was labeled by various quarters, particularly by the main opposition party to be tilted to India, for various reasons including the lack of expected progress in implementing the agreements signed with China around this time last year. A rumour was spread that the government was pouring cold water on the age-old warm relations with the northern neighbour. Because of the way different media made the reports and some experts on international relations presented the analysis, such a situation was created that this government would do nothing to implement the past pacts and that China had an uneasy feeling with the change in power and the ousting of the former KP Sharma Oli led government. However, all these forms of apprehensions are diffused now with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda’s weeklong, March 23-29, visit to China. The issues discussed and the understanding reached during Prime Minister Prachanda’s meeting with President Xi Jinping, vice-premiers Zhang Gaoli and Wan Yan and chief of foreign relations department of Communist Party of China, Song Tao, made it clear now that China attaches as much importance to its relations with Nepal as much Nepal accords importance to its relations with China and that China, as usual, has no qualms over the present government.
As this was not a state visit, no joint statement was issued. And we have to rely on what the PM and members of his delegation said about the visit and how the news media made reports and then make our understanding of the visit as a whole. Moreover, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was out of his country to sign any agreement, protocols and understandings, and perhaps there were issues to be settled before inking them. But even then, the way Nepalese delegation led by PM Prachanda and Chinese delegation led by President Xi Jinping held discussions on March 27 at the Great Hall of the People has made it clear that the visit was no less than a state visit.
Talking briefly with this scribe at the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing where the Nepalese delegation stayed, Prime Minister Prachanda said that the meeting was focused on connectivity, issues pertaining to railway, roadway, energy, communication, economic, tourism and aviation connectivity. The issues of connectivity are in way issues of Belt and Road Initiative taken by President Xi since 2013. And presently the BRI is one of the most talked about issues in China. In his meetings with Chinese officials, PM Prachanda kept on focusing that Nepal is willing to be part of BRI, and this is understandable in the context that China had been a little reserved with the way Nepal was yet to sign an MoU in this regard although most of other neighbouring countries have already signed it. PM Prachanda’s commitment to participate in BRI has alleviated all suspicions China had with the present government. Obviously, it is understood that Nepal has been under Indian pressure not to consent to the BRI, but PM Prachanda had no choice, and he did a great job simply because there is no harm in having connectivity with China, having railway, more roadways, transmission lines and so on with China.
What Foreign Minister Dr. Prakash Sharan Mahat said after the meeting is no less important. He said that the discussion between the two sides, Nepal and China, had diffused all rumours about the current status of Nepal-China relations in Nepal. The Foreign Minister said the meeting proved that Nepal-China relation is as good at present as it has been all along since long.
A press release on the meeting issued by the Nepalese embassy in China also made it clear as it said, ‘The two leaders reviewed the overall state of bilateral relations and expressed happiness that the relations have developed further since their meeting in October last year in Goa.’ PM Prachanda and President Xi had a meeting in Goa, India in the sidelines of the BRICS summit.
According to the release, the two leaders exchanged views on expanding cooperation in new areas and consolidating the existing ones on such areas as railways, transport transit, cross border economic zones, energy, industrial parks, tourism, trade, investment, cultural exchanges and people-to-people contacts. The two sides discussed ways to promote Nepal's tourism in China through various programmes and exchanged views on meaningful cooperation to promote Nepal's export trade.
With regard to BRI issue, the press release said, Prime Minister of Nepal conveyed Nepal's support to 'One Belt One Road Initiative' and expressed the hope that Nepal would benefit from it. The President of China mentioned that Nepal is an important partner in this initiative. They also agreed to implement the agreements and Memorandum of Understandings reached in the past and activate all the established mechanisms for further enhancing bilateral cooperation.
It has been long since Nepalese have been waiting for a visit to Nepal by the Chinese President. And the press release said, ‘On behalf of the President of Nepal, the Prime Minister renewed the invitation to H.E. Xi Jinping to pay a State visit to Nepal. The President of China conveyed that he would visit Nepal at a mutually convenient early date.’ This means that there will be no visit by President Xi in immediate future. It may be because Nepal is in election period and good meaning of any visit during such time may be twisted.
If how the media coverage of the visit is any indicator for the success of the visit, PM Prachanda’s visit has been a great success. China’s English language news media including the China Daily, the People’s Daily and China Global Television Network (CGTN) all made a good coverage about the visit highlighting on Nepal’s commitment to the BRI.
Assistance for polls
As China had welcomed the promulgation of the new constitution in 2015, it has now welcomed the first important step to implement the constitution, the election. Although not much, China has offered an assistance of over 135 million rupees for the polls. It gives a strong message that China is in favour of implementation of the constitution and political stability in Nepal.