Is something amiss with Nepal-China relations?

By Ritu Raj Subedi
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, December 12, 2016
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There are widespread perceptions that the Nepal-China relationship has not being moving along the right track.

This notion gained ground following the cancellation of Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Nepal expected in mid-October. Diplomatic insiders claim Nepal's heightened indifference to the implementation of vital agreements signed by the previous KP Sharma Oli-led government caused the postponement of Xi's visit.

Nepal and China had inked 10 agreements, including ones covering transport and construction of Pokhara Airport; however, following the change of government, delays occurred in implementation of these strategic projects.

"The Nepal-China relationship has been getting a bit cold owing to several factors," admits Hiranya Lal Shrestha, former Nepal ambassador to Russia. Shrestha said that Nepal's growing tilt towards India, and lack of adequate security preparations and indifference to the implementation of agreements with China resulted in President Xi's visit being shelved.

He also said that China took umbrage over remarks by Minister for Information and Communications Surendra Kumar Karki regarding trans-Himalaya railway services. Karki claimed the ecology of Himalayas would be destroyed if the railway track was laid across the mountainous region straddling the China-Nepal border.

President Xi went ahead with planned visits to Cambodia and Bangladesh, where bilateral deals worth billions of dollars were signed. It was, indeed, a missed opportunity for Nepal.

Of late, Nepalese politicians have committed various diplomatic gaffes that made Chinese hackles rise. Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba, a prime minister-in-waiting, caused controversy by attending the India Ideas Conclave that featured a video message from the Dalai Lama. At the opening ceremony, Deuba had sat next to Lobsang Sangay, a representative of Dalai Lama, but, although refuting news reports he had met the latter, his diplomatic blooper raised questions about the NC's commitment to One China Policy.

"Deuba's presence in the controversial meeting was simply unacceptable," said Dr Ram Sharan Mahat, an influential figure in the NC and a former foreign minister. He insisted the party had been firm on the One China Policy from the beginning.

In a bid at damage control, the government and the NC separately issued statements, reiterating Nepal's commitment to the policy. Deuba had claimed that he was ignorant of other participating guests. However, sources insisted he had known who would participate and the nature of the event in advance.

On August 24, Nepal and China were scheduled to hold a Finance Ministry secretary-level meeting, but it could not take place. Earlier, a foreign secretary level meeting was postponed for allegedly "internal reasons." These are the permanent mechanisms essential to implement bilateral accords.

A few weeks ago, two separate Chinese delegations were declined a meeting with Nepalese top officials. A six-member Chinese delegation led by the Public Security Affairs chief of Qinghai Province, Wang Zhengsheng, returned home without meeting Home Ministry officials. Likewise, a high-level Chinese delegation led by head of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce Zhang Mao failed to get an appointment with Commerce Minister Romi Gauchan Thakali. Media reports said the Chinese teams felt humiliated at the perceived snub.

However, the two nations recently held a joint-secretary level meeting in Lhasa where Nepal presented a proposal on a Nepal-China transit protocol. The two sides agreed to further discussions. Top foreign ministry officials from both nations have denied Nepal-China relations are turning sour.

"The Nepal-China relationship is smooth and moving on a normal course. It is not true that ties have turned cold," Foreign Secretary Shankar Das Bairagi told this writer. He said that the two sides were working on a protocol to implement bilateral agreements.

Newly-appointed Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Yu Hong echoed Bairagi's views. "China-Nepal relations have stepped into a new stage of rapid development," she said at an introductory gathering with the various personalities.

Immediately after landing in the Nepalese capital, the Chinese envoy called on the President, Prime Minister, opposition leader and chief of major parties to take stock of bilateral relations. She said bilateral relations had maintained a sound momentum of healthy and stable development.

"China would like to work together with Nepal to synergize the development strategies, strengthen cooperation under the framework of the Belt and Road initiative, and carry China-Nepal friendly relations to a new height," she stressed.

Mr Sakya, a keen observer of Nepal-China relations, said that, although there is a persistent sense of unease about the bilateral relationship, owing to the myopic political leadership, nothing will dampen the time-tested bond existing between the two nations.

"Nepal-China relations are as high as the Himalayas and as deep as ocean," he said.

Ritu Raj Subedi is an associate editor of The Rising Nepal.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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