3 China’s relations with political parties (May 3)
4 Defense ties (May 17)
5 Nepal and BRI (May 31)
In the first week of 2019, a 15-member team of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) led by Dev Gurung visited China at the invitation of the Communist Party of China (CPC). According to Gurung, Chinese leaders the Nepali delegation met underlined the need for strengthening the relationship between the two communist parties and suggested further consolidation of communist forces in Nepal. Chinese leaders also shared their views on ways to win the hearts and minds of people and to strengthen a party’s organizational base. It was one of several such visits by NCP leaders.
In the past one year, senior ruling communist party leader Madhav Kumar Nepal and Spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha have each visited China twice. Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal went to China last September. Former Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal, who was in Beijing during the unification between the erstwhile CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center), has visited China twice after the unification.
It’s not just senior politicians who get invited; leaders of all levels in the party hierarchy have gone. Two provincial chief ministers—Mahendra Bahadur Shahi (Karnali) and Prithvi Subba Gurung (Gandaki)—have also gone to China recently. In the second week of April, NCP General Secretary Bishnu Poudel, along with some other leaders from his party, made the trip.
China seems keen on welcoming NCP leaders particularly after the 2017 party unification. This may have more to do with the fact that the NCP is the ruling party than that it is a communist force. But leaders from other parties are also invited by the CPC, which shows China’s willingness to enhance relations across the political spectrum in Nepal. China seems to have adopted a policy of working closely with whichever party comes to power, never mind their ideology.
Observers say Nepal’s new status as a republic prompted China to expand its relationship with various political parties
It’s not just Nepali leaders who go to China; visits to Nepal by Chinese leaders have also intensified over the past one decade. According to observers, Nepal’s new status as a republic prompted China to expand its relationship with political parties in order to secure its interests in the absence of a permanent power like the monarchy. They say frequent government changes in Nepal led China to reach out to a wide range of political parties. All Nepali mainstream parties today express their firm commitment to ‘One China’, which is a major concern for the northern neighbor.
After the first democratic movement in 1990, the Chinese government adopted a policy of maintaining close ties with the monarchy, the Congress and the UML, the three main political actors in Nepal at the time. After the second democratic movement in 2006, China slightly changed its policy and the CPC started cultivating ties with a growing number of political parties. A recent trend is that the CPC, rather than the Chinese government, is actively engaged in building ties with Nepali political forces.
Historically, China has not taken much interest in Nepal’s domestic affairs. But that seems to be changing. China had expressed its concern over Nepal’s federal setup during the constitution-drafting process. It was of the view that Nepal should not have too many provinces and they should not be delineated based on ethnicity. In 2013, when senior Maoist leader Mohan Baidya revolted against Prachanda and formed a separate party, China had reportedly requested the two sides not to split, and following the split, repeatedly suggested that they unite.
More recently, leaders from different parties claim China was actively engaged in convincing the erstwhile CPN (Maoist Center) not to quit the KP Oli-led government in 2015-16. Chinese dissatisfaction over the toppling of that government had been reflected in some Chinese newspapers, including the Global Times. Similarly, China had reportedly advised the erstwhile UML and Maoists to build an electoral alliance and ultimately unite.
NC, NCP, what’s the difference?
There is a general perception that communist parties of Nepal are closer to China, and other democratic forces to India. But leaders of the main opposition Nepali Congress say it’s a faulty perception and that they too have a strong and cordial relationship with the Communist Party of China.
The 1950 manifesto of the Congress had unequivocally supported the Chinese revolution and the dawn of the People’s Republic of China. Relations between the NC and the CPC were strengthened when then prime minister and party president BP Koirala visited China in 1960 and met Chairman Mao. “The Nepali Congress has firmly backed One-China policy since the 1950s and has always had a cordial relationship with the CPC,” says Ram Chandra Pokharel, a NC leader and former lawmaker who closely follows developments in NC-CPC ties. He was also a part of a 15-member Congress team who had gone to China in 2016 at the invitation of the CPC.
In 2016, media reports about Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba sharing a dais with representatives of the Tibetan government in exile in Goa, India had generated some mistrust between the NC and the CPC. Deuba tried to make amends by telling the Chinese that he did not meet any representatives of the Dalai Lama and reiterating his party’s unequivocal commitment to One-China.
China has cultivated strong ties with Madhes-based parties as well. “China is open to working with any political dispensation in Kathmandu as long as it is prepared to take strong action against political activities of the Tibetan refugees. Significantly, China has also begun taking an active interest in Tarai politics,” writes Nihar Nayak of the IDSA, a New Delhi-based think tank, in his book Strategic Himalayas.
When Nepal promulgated a new constitution in September 2015, India backed the demands of the Madhes-based parties, which were protesting fiercely against the statute. But China welcomed the constitution and suggested that Nepal resolve the issues raised by the Madhesi forces through dialogue. In March 2016, Madhes-based parties submitted a letter to Chinese Ambassador in Kathmandu Wu Chunta in order to draw Beijing’s attention to their demands. When China welcomed Nepal’s constitution, some cadres of the Madhesi parties tried to burn Chinese flags. While Upendra Yadav strongly denounced such acts, other Madhes-based parties were silent.
The CPC is in touch with leaders of the Federal Socialist Party-Nepal, which Yadav leads. FSPN leaders frequently visit China at the invitation of the CPC. However, the CPC has only minimal contact with other Madhes-based parties, including the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN). “It seems China engages with leaders of other Madhes-based parties, but not much with us,” says RJPN Secretary Keshav Jha. He adds that China, of late, has reached out to Madhesi people with various developmental projects and programs.