Senior Chinese official coming today despite Nepal’s reservationsDelegation plans to tour heritage sites including those being restored with Chinese aid even as major elections loom.
Despite reservations from the government, Chinese Vice Minister for Culture and Tourism Li Qun, who is also the head of the National Cultural Heritage Administration, is arriving in Nepal on Friday on a five-day visit.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had advised the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu to postpone the visit until after the November 20 elections, but the Chinese side insisted that the trip would be purely “personal” and involve visits to cultural heritage sites, officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation told the Post. The Nepali Embassy in Beijing is not aware of the visit.
The Prime Minister’s Office was also against receiving foreign dignitaries ahead of the elections as most leaders are busy electioneering and as the government is a caretaker one. It had advised the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to reschedule the visit, if possible. “But the Chinese side insisted on coming on schedule,” a senior official at the PMO said, requesting anonymity.
“Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has stopped meeting foreign dignitaries after the start of the election campaign,” another official at the PMO said. “The visitors should understand that pre-election is not the right time to visit given our leaders’ busy schedules.”
But Director General at Department of Archeology Damodar Gautam told the Post that the Chinese vice-minister is coming at the invitation of the government of Nepal and he will visit some cultural heritage sites that were damaged or destroyed in the 2015 earthquakes and are being restored with Chinese government’s help.
With the election code of conduct in effect, the government cannot sign any agreement with foreign countries as such accords can potentially influence elections. Meetings with foreign diplomats have also been cut down significantly as such interactions could be interpreted as signs of foreign influence.
On Friday, the Chinese delegation will land at the Tribhuvan International Airport at 10:30 PM, but no welcome ceremony is planned. The Chinese delegation will then leave for Hotel Soaltee and there is no official engagement on Friday, as per the itinerary.
On Saturday, the Chinese delegation led by Vice Minister Li will visit Kathmandu Durbar Square and inspect the heritage site. The Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage and Nepali sides jointly reconstructed the Basantapur Palace complex which earlier served as one of the oldest museums in Kathmandu.
In the afternoon, the Chinese delegation will visit the China Cultural Center at Maharajgunj which imparts training to Nepali citizens on Chinese culture, art, literature and language. After that, the delegation will visit the Chinese embassy, Kathmandu.
On Sunday, the Chinese entourage will visit and inspect the Bhaktapur Durbar Square. Later in the same afternoon, it will inspect the nine-storey Basantapur Palace Complex Restoration Project at Kathmandu Durbar Square. Accompanying the Chinese delegation at Basantapur will be Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Jeevan Ram Shrestha.
“The Chinese side has recently completed the restoration of the nine-storey Basantapur palace complex and has promised to support the rehabilitation of other quake-damaged structures including those at Bhaktapur Durbar Square and the Nuwakot palace in Nuwakot district, said Gautam,” adding, “We will sign the memorandum of understanding on the restoration of these heritage and cultural sites after the elections.”
In the same evening, on Sunday, the Chinese officials will visit Swayambhunath, and on Monday, they will visit the Patan Durbar Square and the national museum at Pashupatinath. On Tuesday morning, the Chinese delegation will leave for Hong Kong.
Officials said they are not aware of possible meetings between Li and Nepali leaders. “We have been told the visit is purely personal and informal where the Chinese delegation will visit some cultural heritage sites in Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur,” the foreign ministry official said.
Former diplomats said it is inappropriate to host foreigner leaders and diplomats ahead of elections.
“First of all, those who are coming here should understand that elections are just over a week away and everyone is busy,” said former foreign secretary and ambassador, Madhuraman Acharya, adding, “If they don’t understand, we should postpone such visits citing elections.”
“The failure to do so is suggestive of our helplessness and lack of independence on such matters,” said Acharya.