The road from Kathmandu to Beijing may lie through Delhi.
PM-designate Narendra Modi’s invitation to Nepal may have helped PM Sushil Koirala resolve a policy dilemma. He had kept an invite from China on hold, since he had not yet paid a visit to India after being elected, and did not want to ruffle feathers in Delhi.
With Koirala accepting Modi’s invitation, he is now in a position to strike a ‘balance’ between the country’s two neighbours, a key priority of successive governments in Nepal.
Koirala has been invited to attend the Second China South Asia Expo in Kunming between June 6 and 10, where Nepal is the country of honour this year.
In March, the Governor of the Yunan Province, Li Jiheng, personally met the PM to extend the invitation. But the Koirala government was in a dilemma.
The PM, according to highly placed Nepal government sources, was keen to make the visit – but this would have broken a long-standing political tradition whereby the Nepali PM makes his first official visit to India.
In 2008, Maoist PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ had first visited Beijing to attend the concluding ceremony of the Olympics, a fact that was frowned upon by the Delhi establishment.
Dinesh Bhattarai, Koirala’s official foreign policy advisor, told HT from Kathmandu, “The invitation is a welcome gesture by the new Indian government.” When asked if it would also help Koirala visit China, Bhattarai was circumspect, saying, “The PM’s priorities are the neighbouring countries.” While the Nepali side has not officially announced the PM’s China visit, sources said it was ‘highly likely’ he would now go.
Akhilesh Upadhyay, editor-in-chief of The Kathmandu Post, told HT that the invite was a ‘win-win’ for Koirala. “On one hand, Koirala wanted to honour the tradition of making India his first port of call. On the other, he had assured China that he would visit Kunming.”
“With the visit to Delhi, and then possibly to Kunming, Koirala’s balancing is done for now,” he added.