China Demonstrates Its Grip Over Nepal, Emerges As A Prime Player In Country’s Internal Politics

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jun 27, 2022, 06:51 PM | Updated 06:51 PM IST

Former Prime Minister of Nepal, K P Sharma Oli, and Chinese President Xi Jinping. 
Former Prime Minister of Nepal, K P Sharma Oli, and Chinese President Xi Jinping. 
  • As elections approach, Beijing’s efforts to get its own man in power in Nepal will become more blatant.
  • Nepal has moved into China’s arc of influence and risks becoming Beijing’s vassal state. Two developments last week demonstrate this very amply.

    Under pressure from China’s proxies in its body politic, Nepal decided against moving ahead with the US Government’s State Partnership Programme (SPP). The Nepal cabinet decided last Monday (June 20) against participating in the SPP.

    China, which failed to prevent Nepal from ratifying the USA’s Millenium Challenge Corporation grant of US$ 500 million despite trying its best, wholeheartedly welcomed Kathmandu’s decision last week to dissociate itself from the SPP.

    But in its enthusiasm to savour its triumph in pressuring Nepal not to participate in the SPP, which Beijing and its many proxies in Nepal view as part of the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy, China positioned itself as Nepal’s overlord.

    Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of China’s foreign ministry, said at a regular press briefing in Beijing June 23 (Thursday) in reply to a question: “Various political parties and factions, the government, the army and people across the Nepalese society see the SPP as a military and security initiative closely linked to the Indo-Pacific Strategy and they consider it against the national interests of Nepal and its long-held non-aligned, balanced foreign policy to be part of the SPP. Nepal’s Cabinet meeting has decided not to move ahead on the SPP”.

    Wenbin virtually arrogated to himself the role of Nepal’s spokesperson when he talked of the opposition to SPP within Nepal. He added: “China will continue to support Nepal in upholding its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and support Nepal’s commitment to its independent and non-aligned foreign policy. China stands ready to work with Nepal to jointly safeguard regional security, stability and shared prosperity”.

    Had a ranking government official in the capital of any other country in the world made a similar statement, all hell would have broken loose in Kathmandu with civil society leaders, academicians, journalists, professionals and politicians strongly criticising that country for assuming the role of Nepal’s unsolicited spokesperson and benefactor.

    But the fact that Wenbin’s statement, which reeked of the attitude of a bully and hegemon, was meekly accepted by Nepal’s politicians, media, commentariat and others shows how the leaders of the Himalayan country have accepted China as their overlord.

    Not only did Nepal’s communist parties, which happily and proudly play the role of Beijing’s surrogates, vehemently oppose the country’s association with the US-led SPP, so did even powerful leaders of the Nepali Congress.

    Nepal’s top academicians, think-tanks, media persons, retired judges, bureaucrats and army officers as well as a galaxy of prominent persons opposed the SPP, forcing the Sher Bahadur Deuba government to abandon plans to join the SPP.

    Needless to say, China activated its proxies in Nepal to mount opposition to their country’s plans to join the SPP.

    The other development was the extensive conversations that a senior Chinese Communist Party apparatchik held with former Prime Ministers Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli. Dahal heads the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) [or the CPN-MC] while Oli heads the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) [or CPM-UML].

    Liu Jianchao, the new head of the Communist Party of China central committee’s international liaison department, confabulated with Dahal and Oli over two days (June 23 and 24). According to sources, China is once again trying to broker an alliance between the two communist parties.

    China was instrumental in Dahal and Oli coming to a deal in 2017 and then entering into a formal alliance in 2018. The alliance won the federal polls and the two parties then merged and formed the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) in May 2018. China guided the merger and became the dominant power in Nepal during the premiership of Oli.

    But the alliance fractured over Oli’s refusal to honour a power-sharing deal with Dahal (the two were supposed to share the Prime Minister’s post with Oli being the premier for the first 2.5 years and Dahal succeeding him for the remaining 2.5 years).

    The country was plunged into a political crisis and the NCP ceased to exist. But in those tumultuous days, the Chinese envoy in Kathmandu, Hou Yanqi, played a highly public and proactive role in brokering peace between Dahal and Oli.

    Beijing also sent senior Communist Party of China leaders to Kathmandu to talk to Oli, Dahal and other senior communist leaders of Nepal to prevent the fall of the NCP government. Yanqi even met Nepal’s president Bidhya Devi Bhandari--a constitutional figurehead--to exert pressure on her on behalf of Oli.

    Though Beijing could not ultimately save the NCP government and prevent Oli and Dahal from going their separate ways, the blatant interference in Nepal’s internal affairs revealed the extent and intensity of China’s grip over Nepal.

    At that time, too, Nepal’s civil society leaders, commentators, mediapersons and think-tanks were conspicuous by their silence over China’s blatant and public interference in their country’s internal affairs.

    Had the envoy of any other country tried to play the role that Yanqi did at a time Nepal was passing through a grave political crisis, there would have been violent protests on the streets of the country against such interference.

    That there was none at that time shows how Nepal’s politicians, journalists, civil society leaders and others have accepted China’s hegemony.

    Liu Jainchao is learnt to be exploring the possibility of Oli and Dahal entering into an electoral alliance once again to fight the federal parliamentary polls together. Beijing feels that such an alliance will emerge as the clear winner. In that case, Beijing will find it easier for Nepal to do its bidding.

    China is also learnt to be leaning on Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and his senior colleagues in the Nepali Congress to agree to making Dahal the prime minister of a possible coalition government after the polls. China feels that no party will get an absolute majority and Dahal’s CPN(MC) will be the kingmaker.

    The CPN(MC) is part of the ruling Nepali Congress-led coalition government now. In case Beijing’s political predictions come true, Dahal--if he wins a respectable number of seats--will become the kingmaker. In that case, he can demand the prime minister’s post, at least for the first half of the five-year term, in exchange for support to the Nepali Congress to form the government.

    Beijing wants to see Dahal, or Oli, as the next Prime Minister of Nepal and Jainchao’s confabulations with the two last week were the first in what will surely be a series of secret discussions and meetings. As elections approach, Beijing’s efforts to get its own man in power in Nepal will become more blatant.

    Also Read: China nervous about Nepal’s resolve to strengthen ties with India and USA

    Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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