By Xu Liang
Under the spotlight, Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who is popularly known as Prachanda, shook hands with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi during his tour in India last week. Yet in the picture published by The Himalayan Times, Prachanda was smiling cautiously. This is not an isolated moment. In the most photos taken by Nepalese media, Prachanda tends to knit his eyebrows.
People from both China and Nepal once pinned their hope on Prachanda, who has indeed surprised us by breaking the tradition of Nepali leaders visiting India first after taking office. He made China his first stop. Eight years later, Prachanda is no more “furious” as he was once described, but rather has more realistic considerations for political interests.
During his tour in India this time, the Pancheshwar Project, reconstruction after the earthquake and the East-West Railway program are on the agenda of high-level meetings. However, all those are among the core subjects of China’s Belt and Road initiative that can benefit Nepal.
Against such a backdrop, people cannot help but ask whether Prachanda is seeking reconciliation with New Delhi or maintaining Nepal’s status of being controlled by India.
When Prachanda received Modi’s invitation and kick-started a turning point in bilateral ties with India, concerns and warnings made by Nepal’s former prime minister Khadga Prasad Oli over the possibility that agreements signed between Kathmandu and Beijing might not be carried out in a timely manner began to widely spread. Prachanda had no other options except sending an envoy to China to explain.
It seems that the relationship between Nepal and China stalled abruptly, and a visit by Chinese leaders to Nepal has allegedly been suspended – an unprecedented situation.
It looks like the bilateral relationship between China and Nepal has suddenly turned fragile and sensitive. Obviously, China feels tricked. When Kathmandu needed Beijing to relieve pressure from New Delhi, it got close to China and signed a series of crucial agreements with Beijing which would help Nepal get rid of its reliance on India.
But once India’s attitude toward Kathmandu relaxed a bit and the former made some promises to the latter, Nepalese politicians immediately put the nation’s ties with China on the back burner.
Perhaps these politicians have not intended to treat Beijing as a tool to counterbalance New Delhi, but apart from pressure on Nepal from India, Nepalese politicians’ realistic short-sighted motives are also influencing Beijing-Kathmandu relations.
However, if a country’s diplomacy is made purely based on its national interests, it will not last long, because morality, justice and integrity are also needed in mature foreign policies. China has never disturbed India-Nepal relations, but New Delhi has been interfering Sino-Nepalese ties every once in a while. Hence from whatever perspective, Beijing is more deserving of Nepal’s trust.
Taking China as a bargaining chip with India, instead of sincerely developing ties with Beijing, will fundamentally hurt Nepal’s independence and reputation. Compared with relations between India and Nepal, where there is no defense force along the borders and many channels of communication, China’s ties with Nepal are not as nearly as good. That means if Beijing and Kathmandu want to seek a balance between the three parties, the two must develop ties very quickly.
Today’s Nepal does not need opportunism, but more politicians with perspective and strategies. Only such politicians can seize the opportunities offered by China’s “B&R” initiative, figure out a way to become less dependent on New Delhi and turn Nepal into a completely independent country.
Prachanda had once gone very far on this path in 2008 and Oli has inherited this strategic reform. However, under pressure from India, Prachanda is likely to derail the process. Has he forgotten his initial determination? People are waiting for an answer.
But whatever the answer will be, China will stay aloof from it. In the Sino-Nepalese relationship, Kathmandu is the one that always gets more. Beijing will lose nothing, but it is Nepal that needs to consider whether it will miss more opportunities.
The author is Executive Director of the Indian Studies Center from Beijing International Studies University. email@example.com