Just like China has its ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’ to govern domestic politics, the country has its own way of doing foreign policy. The rest of the world seems to move by one set of rules, and China by another. Every other major power right now is devoted to battling the Covid-19 crisis. China too has given meticulous attention to the virus. Yet it has also espied the “right time” to expand its footprints abroad.
The country is ultra-active in Covid-battered Nepal as well. Chinese ambassador Hou Yanqi has been doing the rounds of the abodes of top Nepal Communist Party leaders, urging them not to ‘destabilize’ the Oli government. Even though the Chinese are unhappy with the Nepali prime minister’s backing of the MCC compact, they seem to have calculated that Oli is still the man to best secure their interests this side of the Tibetan plateau. Having come to this conclusion, ambassador Hou has thrown diplomatic decorum to the wind in her open lobbying for Oli’s continuity.
The chief claimant to Oli’s PM throne, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, has understandably refused to meet her. Having spent so much of his political capital in the past few years proving his loyalty to Beijing, he does not want to lose the hard-earn trust. Therefore, only a month and a half ago, he had listened to Hou and let Oli be. But Dahal is in no mood to make such concessions again. But nor can he defy Hou.
Dahal realizes that saying ‘no’ to the Chinese could undo all his efforts to cultivate Beijing. Dahal also understands that as much as New Delhi mistrusts Oli, it does not trust Dahal any more. Dahal was the one who broke the unstated decorum of the Nepali prime minister making New Delhi his first port of call and flew to China instead. The ex-Maoist boss was also the one who tried to sack a sitting Nepal Army chief, despite clear warnings from the south not to engage in such adventurism.
Above anything else, the recent activism of the Chinese ambassador, her easy access to top leaders, her lack of concern about her conduct, even Dahal’s refusal to see her—all show the enormous power China wields over the NCP. Yet China’s preference for one NCP leader above everyone else is harder to understand. The only way to make sense of it is to assume Oli has told Hou that should other NCP leaders try to take away premiership from him, he would not hesitate to divide the party, China’s most trusted institution in Nepal. In other words, Oli subtly asked her to do the lobbying for his continuity.
But why blame the Chinese envoy when it is our own leaders who are throwing their doors open for her, any time, any day? And weren’t previous Indian envoys in Nepal—and the bunch of Indian spooks that has now descended in Kathmandu to checkmate Hou—doing the same? Moreover, the misogynistic reporting of sections of the Indian media that shamelessly accused Hou of practicing ‘honey trap’ diplomacy has not gone down well here, and will further dent India’s image.
In the end, we are going about this the wrong way. Were our leaders more mindful of national interests and abided by the diplomatic code of conduct, the question of conduct of foreign envoys and other representatives here could be largely irrelevant.