Beijing-Kathmandu ties take a great leap
Xi’s Nepal visit has transformed the relationshipUpdated: Oct 14, 2019 19:25 IST
After wrapping up his India visit, Chinese President, Xi Jinping, travelled to Kathmandu for a two-day State visit. This was the first visit by a Chinese head of state in 23 years to Nepal. In this period, Nepal has changed domestically. A civil war with Maoist rebels ended. The monarchy was abolished. It got a new Constitution through a Constituent Assembly. And it saw the merger of the two communist parties, who went on to win the last elections, with K P Oli as prime minister. Nepal has also changed externally. Nationalism — defined as resistance to India — has deepened. And its political elite has sought to reduce dependence on Delhi, while enhancing linkages with Beijing.
Xi’s visit has also happened in the backdrop of a shift in China’s own approach to its periphery. Its economic, military and people-to-people engagement with Nepal has increased. China has also become a player in Nepal’s domestic politics — a role earlier largely played by India. China actively encouraged the unification of Nepal’s communist parties. It was only when China was comfortable with the regime in power in Kathmandu that Xi made his visit.
The visit itself has qualitatively changed the nature of bilateral ties. China and Nepal declared themselves “strategic partners” for the first time. They reiterated their cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative and envisaged a “Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Project”, which will have rail, road, port, communication and aviation linkages. Xi assuaged a deep-seated Nepali insecurity by saying that from being landlocked, it would now become land-linked. Nepal reiterated its firm commitment to the “One-China policy” (a code for cracking down on Tibetan protestors). And the two countries signed 20 distinct agreements. But the most important signal was political. China was telling Nepal it mattered, and Beijing would be a reliably ally, and Nepal was telling China that it was ready to leap beyond its traditional focus on India. While Xi told Nepal it should think of a two plus one model — China and India plus Nepal — to gain from both, New Delhi will be worried. Its political mismanagement of Nepal, failure to deliver on projects, and inconsistent policymaking has, in no small measure, created this new strategic dynamic. It should now carefully review its Nepal policy.