Growing Chinese Interest on Nepal: An overview

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Amidst the increasing suspicions about China’s gradually increasing involvement in its Southern neighbours, China has appointed a high-profile ambassador to Nepal. The newly appointed diplomat Yang Houlan presented his credentials to President of Nepal Dr. Ram Baran Yadav on June 20, 2011. He succeeds Qui Guohong who was called back in April 2011 stating that he was not assertive enough to control anti-China activities in Nepal.

The arrival of high-profile diplomat, Yang Houlan as China’s ambassador to Nepal, seems to speak candidly about so many things which were not spoken earlier. It is said that the appointment of Yang shows China's growing interest in Nepal. “Houlan’s arrival is no indication that China will take a hyper-active posture in Nepali politics à là Indian establishment yet it will not remain inactive as in the past”, media quotes a Nepali expert on China. It adds, “arrival of high-profile and knowledgeable ambassador as Houlan is the clear indication of the growing geo-political importance of Nepal”. Rajeshwor Acharya, a former Nepalese ambassador to China, states that the appointment of Yang indicated that Beijing wants to play a more active role in bilateral ties unlike in the past when it used to pursue quiet diplomacy.

Also, the frequency of visits of Chinese delegations, which has increased lately, cannot be seen separately from the China´s growing political interests in Nepal. So far as the Nepal visit of high level Chinese delegation is concerned, the following are the major visits after December 2007, as part of “multiple exchanges of engagements at various levels”.

  1. Deputy Commander of Tibet Military Command Maj. General Jin Yiming from December 4-8, 2007.
  2. Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs of China, He Yafei on March 4, 2008.
  3. Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Wu Dawei on July, 24, 2008.
  4. China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on December 01, 2008.
  5. Lieutenant General Ma Xiaotian, Deputy Chief of General Staff of the PLA with a ten-member delegation from November 19-23, 2008.
  6. Deputy CGS Lt. Gen. Ma Xiaotian from December 06-10, 2008.
  7. A high level Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) delegation on 10 February 2009.
  8. Liu Hongcai, Vice Minister of the International Department of the central committee of the CPC led delegation on February 19, 2009.
  9. Assistant Chinese Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue led a 14-member delegation on February 25, 2009.
  10. Commander of Tibet Military Command Lt. General Shu Yutai from December 4-7, 2009.
  11. Major General Jia Xiaoning from December 15-19, 2009.
  12. A 21-member Chinese delegation led by He Yong, Secretary at the Secretariat of Central Committee of Communist Party of China (CPC) from September 11-15, 2010.
  13. Chinese Vice-Commerce Minister Fu Ziying from February 26-Mar 1, 2011.
  14. Senior Col. Wu Yunzhang from March 8-10, 2011.
  15. PLA Chief Gen. Chen Bingde from March 23-25, 2011.
  16. A six-member delegation led by Vice-minister of General Administration of Press and Publication of China Wu Shulin from May 11-13.

If we talk about the recent visits, a six-member Chinese delegation led by Vice-Minister of Supervision and Vice-Director of National Bureau of Corruption Prevention of China, Qu Wanxing, arrived in the Capital on July 04, 2011 on a three-day visit.  Other members of the delegation are Deputy Director General of China's Ministry of Supervision - Lid Rongqui, Deputy Director General and Commissioner of National Bureau of Corruption Prevention - Go Song Jinag, Deputy Director General of Department of Malpractice - Jhou Kexi, and two Chinese officials Liu Rupeng, and Shi Yang. It is said that the delegation has arrived as per the invitation of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA). In that case it can be said that it is a non-political visit of the Chinese delegation to share common experiences on corruption control.

The delegation has arrived in the midst when the Chinese government seems to have put the issue of tackling widespread corruption on priority. On the occasion of the 90th anniversary of Chinese Communist Party in Power, the Chinese President Hu Jintao on July 01, 2011 warned that there is no guarantee of retaining people's support unless the Communist Party of China tackles the issue of rising corruption. "If not effectively curbed, corruption will cost the party the trust and support of the people...doing so would require a complicated and arduous battle", media quotes the President Hu. He also said that the biggest risk the Chinese Communist Party faced today was 'alienation from the people’. Therefore, “we must always place the people's interests before everything else"…"It has thus become even more important and urgent than ever before for the party to police itself and impose strict discipline on its members" media quotes the President Hu.    

However, the Chinese delegation’s visit to Nepal seems to have political objective as they met the Speaker of Legislative Parliament of Nepal Subash Chandra Nembang, and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Upendra Yadav during the visit. For instance, the CIAA Spokesman Ishwori Paudyal justifies the visit’s political objective saying that the delegation also “discusses bilateral issues.”Also, the Constituent Assembly secretariat states that the meeting of the Speaker Nembang with the Chinese delegation “dwelled upon the peace process, new constitution in the making and the friendly relations between the two countries”.

Again a four- member delegation of the China Centre for Contemporary Studies led by Chen Jin, Vice Director of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee Literature Research Centre, arrived on a four-day friendly visit to Nepal from July 14, 2011. Other members of the delegation include senior officials of different departments of the CPC's Central Committee i.e. Gao Yongzhongm, director of the Institute of Party-building under the organisational department, Hu Yanxin and Mu Jinling, officials of the CPC's international department. It is said that the delegates attended a talk programme, met leaders of political parties and exchanged views on relevant subjects on the occasion of the CPC's 90th anniversary. Also, they discussed major experiences and achievements of the CPC in its history of 90 years, including the party's ideology of socialism with Chinese characteristics, major contents of China's twelfth five-year plan and CPC's role in formulating it, while they were in Nepal.

In a series of visits from the China, it is said that the Chinese government and the Communist Party of China (CPC) are sending a delegation led by Zhou Yongkang, a National Security Adviser, to Kathmandu on August 16, 2011 for a four-day visit as per Nepal government’s invitation. According to sources, the delegation has scheduled to meet senior leaders of the UCPN (Maoist), the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML, and access of the latest political situation of Nepal. Zhou, who served as the minister for public security from 2002 to 2007, is a senior CPC leader, ranking ninth in the Politburo Standing Committee, and the head of the Central Political and Legislative Committee. These visits seem to be a reciprocal political visit of a Maoist-UML joint team which visited China last month. A total of 12 leaders of Maoist and the UML were in Beijing for an 11-day visit from June 20, 2011 at the invitation of the CPC.

In the meantime, China is gradually increasing its involvement in Nepal’s infrastructure development. For instance, Nepal and China signed a concessional loan agreement of Rs 7 billion from China Exim Bank for the construction of Upper Trishuli 3A Hydropower project on February 28, 2011. The two countries also signed and exchanged Letters of Exchange for a Chinese grant of Rs 547 million for the widening of Ring Road along with other mutually agreed projects. It is said that the grant will be used to upgrade and widen the Gongabu-Jhamsikhel section of the Ring Road, in the first phase. A flyover and three pedestrian overpasses will also be built at Kalanki from the grant. It is said that the Chinese assistance has some significance as this is the first time that China has given loans to major infrastructure projects. The two sides have already signed a Memorandum of Understanding for Chinese aid for the Pokhara airport. It is also said that other three northern border roads—Humla Pass, Mustang Pass and Kimathanka Pass—are on pipelines. In a recent countryside visit, Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Mr. Houlan has assured Chinese assistance in developing tourism sector in Pokhara. "As Pokhara is a famous tourism destination, there is a need for an international airport and I will recommend the Chinese government for the same”, media quotes the Chinese envoy. It is also reported that the new Ambassador put forward a proposal to rebuilt Nepali Consul General’s building in Lhasa with better facilities to make it a “model structure”. In addition, it is said that Nepal Government has sought Chinese concessional loans for the 300-km Mid-Hill Highway, Nousalgad Hydropower Project and West Seti Hydropower Project. Even Chinese military started extending assistance to Nepal after 2006, especially during the tenure of former Defence Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa who visited Beijing in September 2008. Chinese Deputy Commander of PLA Lieutenant General Ma Xiaotian, during his Nepal visit in December 2008, had given $ 2.6 million under non-lethal military aid to the Nepal Army. Again in December 2009, a visiting Chinese military delegation had announced US $ 3 million to the Nepal Army. It is also said that Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) Chhatra Man Singh Gurung and Chinese Army Chief General Chen Bingde had already signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in providing the economic assistance of worth 1.42 billion rupees during General Chen’s Nepal visit in March. The agreement, signed during Chinese Army chief’s visit also commits engineering equipment including heavy construction vehicles worth 327.6 million rupees ($4.5 million) from China.

As part of exchange visit, Nepal’s Chief of the Army Staff (CoAS), General Chhatra Man Singh Gurung is in The People’s Republic of China now; he reached there upon an official invitation from General Chen Bingde, Member of Central Military Commission and Chief of the General Staff on October 30, 2011 for an eight-day visit.

According to reports, the CoAS General Gurung has signed a cooperation protocol in Beijing committing medical equipment worth Rs. 602.7 million for Birendra Sainik Hospital. It is said that the assistance is a part of Rs. 1.42 billion grant pledged by China during the visit of Chinese Army Chief to Nepal in March, this year. Also, General Gurung will discuss with issues of mutual interest during his meeting with his Chinese counterpart. 

Before that, on October 30, 2011, a meeting of the Council of Minister (cabinet under the Maoist leadership) of Nepal permitted the Nepal Army to receive military grants to be provided to it by the People’s Republic of China’s Military Organisation for the physical and technical infrastructure development of Birendra Army Hospital, Chhauni, Kathmandu. According to sources, the meeting of the Cabinet also approved one-week visit of the CoAS Gurung to China.

Moreso, it is reported that the Nepalese authorities prevented exiled Tibetans from celebrating their spiritual leader Dalai Lama's 76th birthday on July 6, 2011 as a precaution to avoid the gatherings from turning anti-Chinese. Before that, newly appointed Chinese Ambassador to Nepal, Yang Houlan called on Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara on July 27, 2011, and voiced concerns over the Tibetan issue and the ‘Free Tibet’ movement. It is said that Ambassador Yang expressed deep concern about what could happen in Nepal during the Establishment Day celebration of the Chinese Communist Party. Subsequently, the Chief District Officer of Kathmandu District Laxmi Prasad Dhakal had issued a warning saying that all public celebrations were banned and police would not tolerate anti-Chinese protests. Authorities earlier said that they would allow celebrations inside monasteries provided there are no banners or slogans against China. According to media sources, hundreds of riot police blocked the Tibetans from entering a school on the northern part of Katmandu where the celebrations were planned. It is also reported that three Tibetans were detained by the police when the former tried to hold a prayer meeting on the street. Also, Nepal government mobilised its police to guard the Chinese Embassy and its visa office in Katmandu to avoid any protests. Also, the areas populated by Tibetans were put under heavy security.

It is said that the Tibetan exiles had some sort of freedom to move freely in Nepal after 1990 when the democracy was restored in the country. However, Nepal has changed its course, abandoning the Tibetan activities in favour of closer relations with China, following the abolition of the monarchy in 2006 and the rise of the Maoist party. As everybody knows, there are more than 20,000 Tibetan who exiles have been living in Nepal for the past few decades after fleeing Tibet.

 

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Author: Uddhab Pyakurel