By Maila Baje
Whatever we may think about Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s 100 days in office, the Chinese don’t seem terribly impressed. Still, that alone should be cause for celebration for our top Maoist, if you consider the circumstances that led to his ascension.
Had the K.P. Oli government not been so mystifyingly dislodged in July, Nepalis would probably have enjoyed that extra holiday earlier this month on account of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s long-awaited arrival.
Weeks into the inauguration of the Dahal government, Beijing could be heard grumbling about how stiffly Kathmandu was dragging its feet on implementing the bilateral agreements signed during Oli’s high-profile visit to China earlier in the year.
Things have gotten so bad these days that the Chinese are expressing concern over the commitment of the new government to Nepal’s long-held one-China policy. And, no doubt, it has been a double whammy.
Beijing, according to published reports, expressed serious concern over the meeting ruling Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba allegedly held with representatives of the Tibetan government in exile during a function organized by an Indian think tank in Goa.
A Chinese embassy official was also said to have registered a strong objection at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs over Nepali government authorities allowing the Taiwanese flag during an art exhibition.
Deuba, for his part, has angrily denied having met any Tibetan leader and has no time for gratuitous lectures on neighborly equidistance/equiproximity. A mere picture showing him sharing space with the head of the Tibetan government in exile cannot be considered incriminating. Yet Deuba’s allies hardly did him any favor by insisting that the picture might have been Photoshopped.
But who are we really kidding here? Let’s step back a bit and try to put things in perspective. In reality, the Chinese are anxious about agreements that we all know were largely symbolic. At best, they laid the foundation for a robust partnership down the road. For that future to arrive, Beijing needs to settle things with New Delhi.
Nepal would love to have great relations with both neighbors, but it can’t afford to tether itself to the idiosyncrasies of Sino-Indian relations. You can’t advise Nepali to improve relations with the Indians and then question our motives every time the Dalai Lama veers anywhere near Arunachal Pradesh.
Oli risked much in undertaking his northern expedition. When he returned home to face India’s wrath, China – in customary fashion – professed non-interference and sought to woo his putative successor.
But Dahal’s proclivities and priorities had undergone a radical shift since those tumultuous months of 2009. Some ‘foreign masters’ are more palatable than others. Our prime minister tried his best to portray his own Goa experiment as a novel excursion into trilateralism. Yet deep down, Dahal recognized the true nature of his interaction: talks with the Chinese president under the watchful gaze of the Indian premier. (If China, as Dahal has suggested, wanted to sign significant agreements with Nepal in Goa, doesn’t that say something as well?)
If Dahal today is not too anxious to throw a lifeline to Deuba, you can hardly blame him. Who wouldn’t want to prolong his/her premiership?
(Who) Won China policy
By Maila Baje