Nepal-China ties ‘figured prominently’ in PM Deuba’s Delhi engagementsWhile both Nepali and Indian sides have refused to admit officially that Nepal-China relations featured during Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s engagements in New Delhi,
While both Nepali and Indian sides have refused to admit officially that Nepal-China relations featured during Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s engagements in New Delhi, particularly his meetings with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, it is learnt that Kathmandu’s relations with Beijing indeed figured in some of his high-level meetings in the Indian capital.
India and China are locked in a dispute over the Doklam tri-junction close to Bhutan. Both the countries are perceived to be seeking Nepal’s backing of their respective claims.
Top government officials told the Post that former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh asked Deuba about the kind of relations Nepal maintains with China, wondering if it was true that all the big cities of Nepal were now connected with China. PM Deuba is said to have replied “it is not true”.
Singh, who was accompanied by President of Indian National Congress Sonia Gandhi and Karan Singh, an old Nepal hand, took up matters such as “Nepal’s inclination to China”.
“But PM Deuba carefully answered the queries posed by former PM Singh and tried to make the status of Nepal-China ties clear, assuring them that there was nothing [for India] to worry about,” revealed Dinesh Bhattarai, foreign relations adviser to PM Deuba.
The status of Nepal-China ties and India’s fears if Nepal was tilting towards China was clearly manifest in public forums and media and strategic circles in New Delhi.
According to Nepali officials, “Indian message to Deuba was ‘do not deviate, we will take care of Nepal’s interests’”.
Though officials from both sides tried to downplay Nepal’s proximity with China, one sitting Indian minister did raise the issue at a public function. Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Minister Ram Vilash Paswan raised the China issue at the civic reception of the Nepali PM by the India Foundation when he said “expansionist mindset of China that took over Tibet and Nepal poses serious threat after the standoff in Doklam.” In response, Deuba said “Nepal has good relations with China and Indian friends should not worry about it”.
But the PM’s clarification did not go well with Nepali officials. Minister for Civil Aviation Jitendra Dev told the Post that the PM need not have responded to the minister’s statement.
“We are not here to talk about our affairs with Beijing. Since our ties with China and India are independent, the PM should have skipped it,” he said.
Interestingly, Nepali officials first made sure that no Tibetan leader attended the programme organised by the India Foundation. Stung by last year’s debacle at an India Foundation programme in Goa where Deuba was criticised for sharing the podium with a Tibetan leader, a Nepali official said they had taken the precaution.
Several members of the Nepali delegation believe that following the Doklam standoff with China, India softened its approach to Kathmandu, in a departure from its rigid stance over Nepal’s constitution. Welcoming of Deuba by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and the unscheduled one-to-one meeting between Deuba and Modi are interpreted as India’s bid to cultivate Nepal’s leadership.