Meetings between Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi were common till last year. Hou visited President Bidya Devi Bhandari’s office on several occasions.
Hou followed in the footsteps of Indian ambassadors in Kathmandu a few years earlier, visiting the homes and offices of key political leaders from both the ruling and opposition parties. Former Indian ambassador Ranjit Rae would organize meetings with all of Nepal’s senior political leaders in 2015, when the constitution was being crafted, to learn about what was going on in the country.
Many questioned whether China, like India in the past, was attempting to micromanage Nepal’s internal affairs and issues. Former Nepal Communist Party leaders even went on to declare that, unlike visits by Indian diplomats, Hou’s visit was beneficial to the country.
But things have changed since then. China, which has an opinion on practically all of Nepal’s domestic affairs, has stopped talking about Nepal. After Oli disbanded the House of Representatives for the second time, it issued no comment. The matter has not even been raised in any of China’s media outlets.
Hou’s visits have also ceased in recent times, as she has avoided both the prime minister’s and the president’s residences. According to foreign policy experts, China has lost interest in Nepali politics after a high-ranking official from the communist party visited and left Nepal after meeting Oli in December 2020.
So, what does all of this mean?
Is it dissatisfied?
China said in February that it would give 800,000 Covid-19 vaccinations to Nepal. Previously, it delivered various medical supplies to Kathmandu on its own, but this time it wrote to Nepal’s Foreign Ministry, requesting that the Kathmandu administration come to China to pick up the relief.
Three weeks later, the Nepalese government dispatched a Nepal Airlines plane to pick up the immunizations. This was one of the few occasions when China refused to deliver the aid directly. But the real question is why it took Nepal three weeks to get the immunizations.
After India, Nepali politicians frequently turn to China for fast assistance when anything goes wrong. According to analysts, Nepal did not request assistance from China in a timely manner. The lone appeal came from Nepal’s embassy in Beijing until Bhandari requested an additional million immunizations as aid in a phone chat with President Xi Jinping.
Until now, Oli and his administration have taken no moves to seek assistance from China. Despite the fact that China has been giving vaccines as charity, Nepal has not had any discussions with it regarding purchasing vaccines. Despite the fact that Nepal has not been in contact with China, China has attempted to assist Nepal with medical equipment and vaccines.
“It appears that the Oli government is unwilling to accept Chinese assistance,” says Tanka Karki, a former Nepali ambassador to China. “If all parties had desired it, China would have offered a large amount of assistance.”
China’s attempt to separate itself from Nepal is also clear in the fact that it did not issue Nepal an invitation to the Boao Conference. Oli was invited to the conference in 2018, but he chose to travel on a state visit to India instead. Nepal has not been invited to the meeting since then.
This demonstrates that Nepal-China relations remain strained, despite the fact that the latter has been providing medical assistance to the former during the pandemic. According to political observers, China does not generally hold talks because it thinks that its deeds speak louder than words.
According to geopolitical expert Chandra Dev Bhatta, China does not appear to be in the mood to go out of its way to assist Nepal.
“They didn’t think we were important when it came to the Boao Conference, and even during the pandemic, they appeared hesitant to aid us,” he recalls.
Failure of the ‘communist cooperation’
When there was internal strife in the former NCP last year, Ambassador Hou was highly engaged in attempting to resolve the conflict. During one of her visits to Oli, she persuaded him to step down as party head while he was still prime minister. According to a leader close to Oli, Oli was not pleased with the suggestion.
“He believes that China is threatening his position of power. That is when he began to look to India for assistance,” says the leader, who did not want to be identified.
According to Mrigendra Bahadur Karki, Executive Director of the Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies, China believes Oli has ignored its recommendations as he has moved closer to the west and India.
“China feels at ease when communists rule Nepal. That is why it sought to keep the two parties united. “However, because to Oli, the plan did not succeed,” he continues.
Bhatta feels the same way. He believes that Oli, who has been accused of being dictatorial, was angered by China’s handling of Nepal’s internal difficulties. According to Bhatta, China wants Nepal to have a communist party for the long term and to continue coordinating, but Oli did not like it because he feared it would force him out of the administration.
The NCP and China’s communist party even inked a cooperation agreement to cement their relationship. Since then, many NCP leaders have traveled to China for instruction on party formation and communist ideology. The NCP-China cooperation was so robust that people wondered if China merely wanted to support the NCP and not Nepal.
On December 20, 2020, Oli dissolved the House of Representatives and began discussing the dissolution of the NCP. China believed Oli had betrayed them at that point. China even dispatched high-ranking officials from Beijing to meet with him. Nonetheless, Oli did so because China’s aim to keep Nepal away from the influence of the West and India failed.
Expectations from one another
Oli has endeavored to maintain ties with China since India put an economic blockade on Nepal in 2016. Even while he has made breakthroughs, things have not progressed as quickly as he had intended.
Nepal and China signed a transit and transportation agreement in 2019, but the country has yet to utilise any of the ports named in the agreement. Analysts, however, believe that even though the deal has not yet been implemented, the fact that it has been signed is significant.
According to former ambassador Karki, several Chinese investments have been halted as a result of the agreements not being followed.
“We stand to gain a lot from the new investments. However, the current environment is unfavorable,” Karki argues.
Oli had some ambitions in China. He wanted China to foot the bill for the railway that would connect the two countries. However, China stated that Nepal was also required to invest in the project, which included the DPR.
He had even hoped that when Xi visited Nepal in October 2019, he would declare financial assistance to Nepal in the same way that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did. Xi, on the other hand, did not do so.
“He wants to shift towards India now since he hasn’t gotten what he wanted from China,” Bhatta says. “That’s why he wants to pass the MCC as well.” According to Mrigendra Bahadur Karki, the views of Nepalese and Chinese communists are very different, and getting both of them on the same page will be difficult.
Oli elicited hopes and aspirations in China as well. It had hoped that the paperwork for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) would have been approved by now. However, the project has stalled for the past three years as Nepal debates whether to support the MCC or the BRI first.
If the BRI had been prioritized, at least nine projects out of the 37 mentioned on the agreement would have begun. However, nothing has been done thus far because both sides have yet to agree on the mode of investment.
Oli hopes that China will fund some of these initiatives. However, according to the BRI, China has stated that it will not provide aid to any country.
Oli had also hoped that China would come to Nepal’s aid in terms of security. But first, China wants Nepal to sign an extradition treaty, which India, the United States, and other Western countries oppose. Nepal has yet to ratify the treaty or agree to pass the BRI as a result of its objection.
China is changing its direction.
China was overjoyed in 2018 when the UML and Maoists combined to form a powerful communist party. They believed that by doing so, Nepal would become a long-term ally.
According to Bhatta, the two countries’ relations were initially quite excellent, with officials from both countries visiting the other. But the thrill was short-lived.
He claims that China is attempting to shift its stance on Nepal now that Oli no longer has a grip.
“They are also attempting to enhance their connection with other parties in the country,” Bhatta says.