Home / Commentary / Connecting the dots / A bland, low-key and singular China visit
Machhapuchre Bank

A bland, low-key and singular China visit

KATHMANDU:  Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, upon return from his China visit on Sunday, claimed, via a press statement, that its achievements exceeded its objectives, which included, among other goals, boosting mutual goodwill and the preparation of modalities for implementation of past agreements.
On the other hand, Nepali Congress’ Ram Saran Mahat, a former foreign and finance minister, told reporters that very day that that although prime minister’s voyage to Nepal’s northern neighbour was “positive”, there was “no breakthrough” (Rising Nepal, 25 June), even while maintaining that implementing the 14 agreements inked was the critical aspect, and that some were downright confusing.
As there has been fulsome, if rather predictable, commentary on those deals, mostly agreed in principle on an earlier Oli visit, I choose not to dwell on them in the limited space available here.
Instead, I begin by noting that a Himalayan Times editorial (25 June) maintained that there were “confusions galore” vis-à-vis the outcome of Oli’s China odyssey, particularly with regard to the financial modalities with respect to proposed railway connectivity between the two countries.
Speaking for myself, I believe it will not be wasted effort if some space and time was devoted – primarily – to studying what was in – and what was not – in the relevant 14-point joint statement issued in Beijing on June 21. Not too much of an effort in that direction has been noticed, at this writing.
Among the striking assertions of that document, (Rising Nepal, June 23), is the reference to the satisfaction at “remarkable achievements” in bilateral relations “since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1955.” This plainly gives credit where it is long overdue: the initial period of the relationship to which protean contributions were made by B.P. Koirala, King Mahendra and King Birendra!
It needs to be pointed out that the reference to China’s firm support to “Nepal’s independent choice of its social system and development path” does not apply exclusively to today’s republican polity or Communist dispensation, as also that Beijing’s endorsement of “efforts made by Nepal in upholding its sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, national unity and stability” harks back to times in the past where Nepal stood down pressure from abroad, including that attempting to limiting, if not undermining, Nepal-China relations.
China has indicated its understanding of Nepal’s aspiration to obtain Observer Status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (where she was curiously missing during the recent summit in Qingdao) saying it will “consider it on the basis of consensus with other Member States” – diplomatic language suggesting that it could take time.
What is, however, the most conspicuous is the absence in the joint statement of any specifics of the conversation during Oli’s courtesy call on Chinese President Xi Jinping, June 20.
As such, there is no official recognition of the assertion by Nepali official sources claiming that Xi expressed a desire to visit Nepal and his belief that the Lhasa-Shigatse railway would be extended to Kerung and beyond.
Incidentally, regarding the latter, what has come to the fore is Oli’s reported proposal that China bear the total cost of a Kerung-Kathmandu railroad which, to my simple mind, is an imaginative mode of scuttling such a long-anticipated connection altogether!
It’s a no-brainer to predict that the severing of a proposed railroad tie-up between Lhasa and Kathmandu would be cheered in many foreign chanceries, including in New Delhi, despite all the hyperbole about ‘Wuhan’.
Last week, I drew readers’ attention to the relegation of the visit, by the Chinese side, days before its start, from “state” to “official” level – a development that most, even in the media here, chose to ignore. Such a head-in-the-sand attitude did little, however, to obscure the less-than-warm welcome that greeted Oli when he arrived in Beijing and was received by “high-ranking officials” rather than by an apex figure from the Chinese leadership.
What sought to underline the cool, business-like welcome was its stark contrast with the lavish ceremonial welcome accorded to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un – who arrived in Beijing the very same day as Oli – for his third meeting with Xi in weeks, and his first since the June 12 summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore.
For instance, the guard of honour for Oli was organised inside the Great Hall of the People; on more important visits, they are held outside on the capacious Tiananmen Square itself with a drawn sword-bearing military officer marching ahead of the visiting dignitary, accompanied by his/her Chinese counterpart.
Curiously missing, too, were routine visuals of the delegation-level talks and even a photograph of the welcome banquet by his Chinese host, Premier Li Keqiang. On such occasions, it is normal that warm toasts and speeches are made by both parties – rhetoric and addresses that are reported for public enlightenment and the record.
That aside, it was impossible not to notice that RSS reporting from China was restricted to statements issued by the Nepal embassy; I did not see any references to the coverage on the visit by the Chinese media, including Xinhua or the People’s Daily, for instance.
Was RSS unable to meet ordinary Chinese citizens and ask them about Nepal or of the prime minister’s on-going visit to China? Or, were they completely unaware of it? Or, was RSS restricted to reporting only what the Embassy had to say?
While most our well-heeled journals chose, lethargically, to report Oli’s China visit from Kathmandu, again solely depending on official Nepali sources, human interest stories or other sidelights, too, were naturally missing.
The net result is the perception of a rather bland visit with confusing/conflicting signals. Perhaps the prime minister will clarify ambiguities through a briefing to the press or parliament?

Check Also

Trump’s America irritates, baffles but still dominates

BY M.R. JOSSE KATHMANDU: According to J. Bradford Delong, a Western commentator, America under President …