Top-level Chinese visit piques curiosity about its purposeChinese Communist Party’s international department chief is arriving on Sunday amid talks about a possible left alliance and Nepal’s perceived tilt towards the West.
A seven-member Chinese delegation led by the new head of the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China, Liu Jianchao, is arriving in Kathmandu on Sunday, piquing curiosity and raising speculations about the purpose of the visit.
He is visiting Kathmandu at a time when there are talks about a possible electoral alliance among Nepal’s communist parties.
The largest communist party, the CPN-UML, is the main opposition, while another, CPN (Maoist Centre), is a partner in the ruling coalition led by the Nepali Congress.
The two leftist parties had merged in May 2018 to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) but it fell apart after months-long infighting. They broke up in March last year after a Supreme Court order. The Chinese had made unsuccessful attempts to save the unity.
After replacing Song Tao as the head of the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China, Liu had in the last week of June interacted with Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and UML chair KP Sharma Oli, continuing the trend of his predecessor.
Soon after taking charge last month, Liu had interacted with Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka. According to party leaders and experts, he is coming to Kathmandu with a couple of objectives, according to politicians and experts.
The Chinese delegation will meet with President Bidya Devi Bhandari, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, Foreign Minister Khadka, Oli, Dahal and other leaders and will assess how possible it is to reunite the communist forces in Nepal, according to two leaders.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu are making logistical arrangements for the visit, said one official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Liu’s visit comes at a time when Nepal is heading towards federal and provincial elections and the Election Commission has already proposed holding both the elections in a single phase on November 18.
Like in 2017, this time too, the Chinese are still weighing the possibility of a unity among the communist forces, a UML leader who has interacted frequently with Chinese leaders, said.
“A possible agenda of the visit could be to encourage a pre- or post-poll alliance between like-minded lefties forces or only between the UML and the Maoist Centre,” the UML leader added citing informal talks with Chinese diplomats, politicians and officials.
Countering the notion, Rajan Bhattarai, chief of the Foreign Affairs Department of the UML, however, said that external forces have no role in internal affairs of Nepali communist parties.
“If outsiders had united the leftist forces in Nepal, why did the Nepali communist parties split?” he wondered.
Although efforts are still being made for a possible pre- or post-poll alliance of the leftist forces, two major communist parties—the UML and the Maoists—have ruled out such possibility at least in the near future or until the next parliamentary elections. Some Nepali interlocutors and leaders told the Post that there is divergence of opinions and views within the establishment and various divisions and departments in Beijing about a possible alliance among the communist parties in Nepal.
“He [Liu] has just taken charge of the party’s international department and this is his familiarisation visit to Nepal,” said Bhattarai. “He earlier held virtual meetings with the Nepali leaders and the visit is a continuation of those interactions.”
Bhattarai interpreted the upcoming visit as a continuum of political delegations from neighbouring countries including India to Nepal. “We welcomed Vijaya Chauthaiwale of the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] in Kathmandu and now Liu is coming. This trip is for his familiarisation with the ground reality of various aspects of Nepal-China relations as far as we are briefed,” said Bhattarai.
The visit also follows the Nepal Parliament’s ratification of the United States’ Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact despite China’s strong reservations. Recently, amid a flurry of debates and deliberations on the US State Partnership Program which is another US proposal for cooperation in the field of security and military, China has also expressed grave concerns over whether Nepal would be an US ally in defence cooperation. After the Nepal government decided not to be a part of the SPP, the Chinese government commended the decision.
Sources said that the Chinese Communist Party is also keen to expand ties with the Nepali Congress. Now the Chinese have realised that in case there is no pre- or post-poll alliance particularly between the UML and the Maoist Centre, Nepali Congress will emerge as the single largest party and will rule the country for at least five years. In that case, China has to engage with the Congress party as it runs the government, the UML leader said. “Another important objective of the visit is to build good relations between the Nepali Congress and the CPC.”
Another official said that the visit might pave the way for the visit of Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka to China that is long overdue.
Building party-to-party relations between the CPC and Nepal’s political parties, expediting the China-led Belt and Road Initiative, assessing the ground reality for the upcoming elections and promoting Chinese interests in Nepal are other issues on the agenda of the Chinese official, who would also be reminding Nepali leaders about China’s geo-political sensitivities, knowledgeable sources say.
The way the MCC was pushed here made the Chinese unhappy, said Ram Karki, deputy head of the Maoist party’s International Relations Department. “The Chinese are concerned about whether Nepal has abandoned its non-aligned foreign policy and tilted to the West.”
“On unity between the communist parties in Nepal, the Chinese are interested. But is that our necessity or not? I don’t think China has enough clout to unite the communist forces in Nepal,” said Karki. “Due to social, political, cultural, traditional and other aspects, China’s dominance in Nepal is minimal compared to what India and the West exercise.”
Some observers who are closely following the Nepal-China ties said that the visit has multiple objectives and the timing is important.
Since they are meeting with major political parties of Nepal, the visit aims to promote relations between the Nepali political parties and the CPC, said Sundar Nath Bhattarai, acting president of the Kathmandu-based China Study Centre.
“The Chinese favour a left unity in Nepal because that will make it easier for them to work with. There is also a concern about Nepal’s possible tilt towards the West due to some issues like the passage of the MCC [compact], Nepal’s voting in the UN in favour of Ukraine, and the ongoing controversy over the SPP,” said Bhattarai, who is also a former Nepali ambassador to Pakistan.
“Although one visit is not sufficient to measure all those issues and concerns, it can help them assess the ground realities of Nepal. The most important thing that the Chinese want to see in Nepal is stability and prosperity, which they will also push for here.”