China’s posture - Does it give any relief to Nepal?

China’s State Councillor Tan Jiaxuan’s official visit to Nepal has given a breathing space to the government at this critical juncture of Nepal’s isolation from the international community. The occasion has given the government an opportunity to escape from the seclusion forced upon it by leading democratic countries. Indeed, this visit has assumed greater importance since China had expressed concern in January over the deteriorating political situation here. In the past, China had remained taciturn on Nepal’s internal situation, calling it purely an internal matter.

Nepal’s proximity to Tibet has induced China to view a politically unstable Nepal with a greater sensitivity. A chaotic situation with governance gap could become a breeding ground for more turmoil, requiring China to pay greater attention toward the northern belt of Tibet for security. Therefore, China considers a peaceful and stable Nepal as an asset.

China feels comfortable with Nepal for its ‘One-China’ policy. Noteworthy is the statement issued by the Nepali government re-corroborating this policy soon after the Taiwanese president scrapped in February the National Unification Council — a body previously entrusted with furthering the process of the final reunification of Taiwan with China. This friendly gesture is valuable for China.

Invariably continued assurance of letting no unwanted elements create disturbance in Tibet through Nepal and strict adherence to One-China policy maintained over the five decades have remained a pedestal for firm China-Nepal ties. Obviously, no dissent and divergent opinion at official levels were recorded in the past. China is an upcoming power, which has become a global player in terms of its economic activities and trade interests reaching far and wide. With this enhanced global standing and growing closer understanding on security concerns and increasing bilateral trade advantages with India, China tends to shift its attention toward a larger horizon rather than being concentrated in narrower scope.

The Chinese state councillor’s visit has taken place at a time when Nepal’s three political forces — royalists, parties and Maoists — look more divergent in their beliefs and activities, although the latter two groups have been making greater efforts to arrive at a closer understanding for joint actions against the former. However, their modus operandi appears discordant with cohesiveness and commonality lacking in their political behaviour. Nepal is experiencing a greater lack of a political force led by a charismatic personality with wider influence over the populace. Consequently, Nepali society is feeling a political void resulting in truncated politics in the country. Unquestionably, this precariousness has led all political actors to look at external forces for support and inspiration. Such a deplorable state of affairs is teasing every conscious Nepali.

From the political behaviour and speech delivered by the Chinese councillor at the China Study Centre, observers conclude that China’s foreign policy toward Nepal appears to reflect a continued pursuance of the principles of the inter-state relationship that underscore non-interference in others’ domestic affairs and respect for each other’s sovereignty and independence.

However, on the question of Nepal’s domestic conflict, China toed the line as enunciated and repeatedly voiced by the leading democratic group of international community for reconciliation between the palace and the legitimate parties and peaceful dialogue for a resolution of the long-drawn conflict. China’s diplomatic acumen has become clear when the Chinese leader met not only government leaders but also conferred with the leading politicians of major parties. This is the first political step ever taken by any leading Chinese high official in Nepal. Observers note the act as well-measured in keeping both the government and the protesting opposition at an even keel. China fears that if it indulges in too close a contact with the present government alone, the political parties is likely to start grumbling.

Interestingly, fairly conspicuous is a purported avoidance of any mention of the Maoist movement as an increasing political force to reckon with during the Chinese delegation’s sojourn in Nepal indicating China’s perception of the movement as anachronistic in the contemporary context.

Evidently, the visit seems to have given a feel of respite to the Nepali ruling group at least for a while. But it will evaporate in view of a growing public disenchantment with the government and increasing political challenges coming from renewed understanding reached between the seven political parties and the Maoists just a few days ago. Closer understanding of emerging ground realities by the holders of state power rather than remaining in political aloofness is needed for any flexible attitude to be adopted toward ending military confrontation.

Shrestha is ex-foreign ministry official