Many are blaming the Chinese government for the rather undiplomatic press statement issued by the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu over a syndicated article in The Kathmandu Post and the accompanying illustration of a masked Mao on a 100-yuan bill. But it can be argued that the statement has nothing to do with Beijing and in fact it’s a diplomatic faux pas on the embassy’s part.
China is going through a difficult time and maybe the embassy wrongly calculated that a firm stance on the article or the picture would make it appear patriotic.
It can also be argued that the blunder was due to unexperienced press secretary or those in charge of it here and s/he sought advises from the Nepali journalists close to the embassy who were against The Post and its Editor-in-chief Anup Kaphle, who, by the way, was to leave the newspaper the very next day. The Post’s assertion that the embassy had raised many objections to its articles before proves this point. Maybe some Nepali “advisors or friends” thought that they would benefit from a rift between the embassy and the newspaper. (And it’s a given and acceptable for embassies to maintain local network of friends to make sense of what’s happening in their host countries.)
Or maybe some staff of the embassy are influenced by meng zi’s idea or the nativist nationalist theories that state: big countries should love small countries and small countries should respect big countries. It’s the kind of nationalist humbug Beijing dislikes and discourages, but is popular among certain segments of the society. Maybe this group saw the article as an affront—or blatant disrespect by the small brother.
The interesting Cultural Revolution-era language also makes anyone familiar with Chinese history ask or make a wild guess: could it be that there was some sort of a factional rivalry in Beijing and the embassy people wanted to prove they stand with President Xi at this time of national health emergency?
Or the embassy thought it would ‘kill the chicken to scare the monkey’? You issue a statement against a newspaper to scare others in Nepal and elsewhere. Just like President Xi said during his Nepal visit: “We’ll crush the bones of those trying to destabilize China.”
Otherwise, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post regularly publishes articles critical of the Chinese government but Beijing doesn’t care. Beijing is a smart power and it understands it cannot control what people outside the Chinese mainland think of it. Also, it is a confident power that’s not affected by what gets published in newspapers worldwide. Or most of its embassies would be working overtime issuing statements. It also knows such statements backfire and affect its soft power abroad.
In Nepal’s case, we’ve had people from most diplomatic missions overstep their boundaries to prove their loyalty to their political masters—often to the chagrin of and embarrassment to their respective governments. The Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu too has at times overstepped its boundary. At one point it wanted the Nepal army to stop training foreign soldiers in its mountain warfare in Mustang. Whoever suggested this idea made it appear that it was coming from Beijing. But NA knew it had nothing to with the Chinese government but with someone at the embassy here who wanted to raise their profile by overstepping their mandate.
Therefore it will be a major folly to associate Chinese government with what transpired in Kathmandu recently. Foreign Ministry in Beijing under Wang Yi, a very capable diplomat, would have never approved a statement like that. Beijing is a very confident power and it has its own public support, and doesn’t care what some foreigners think about it.
But if the criticism was too much to handle, which is rarely the case, it would have written a letter to the editor and or used other ways to voice its dissatisfaction, most likely over dinner and drinks with the concerned parties, or via other indirect ways without any traceable links to Beijing.
Let’s just hope the embassy has learned its lesson and would be careful in its dealing with the press. Smart people in Beijing want just that, not firebrand statements affecting the excellent ties between the two countries.
And the embassy here needs to investigate the vested interests of some Nepalis who are more Chinese than the Chinese themselves. These people regularly poison its relations with Nepal’s mainstream media.
If they were the reason that led to such a strong and frankly undiplomatic and bizarre statement, it should tell them zai bu jian (let’s not meet again) and cut them loose. And if the push came from some Chinese citizens in Nepal who used the op-ed to prove their patriotism for whatever reasons, the embassy should not be swayed by them either in the future. You represent Beijing and its policies not what some random Chinese influenced by nationalistic writings think.
Let’s not let some crafty, overly emotional and nationalist people ruin our excellent bilateral relations and the stellar image China has in Nepal.