ANALYSIS: China’s renewed diplomacy has more promises but is Nepal ready?


KATHMANDU: China has new leadership in Beijing and a new representative in Kathmandu. Both have stressed on pursuing a comprehensive diplomatic strategy at the global and regional level. And of course, as the closest neighbor, it has special plans for Nepal.

The newly-appointed Chinese envoy to Nepal, Wu Chuntai, while elaborating on some dimensions of this new strategy, said that the comprehensive package includes continuing economic support and the new dimensions that will be pushed further are cultural and people-to-people exchanges.

These packages, the details of which are still in the making, are part of new Chinese leadership’s policy to engage and strengthen economic and cultural ties in the region and across the globe. In his address given on the sidelines of the first session of the 12th National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi had said that Chinese diplomacy will stress on actively “participating in international and regional affairs to build the international system”.

Echoing the statement made by Jiechi, Chuntai in his debut press meet, held some days after he assumed responsibility at the Nepal mission, elaborated on the profound cultural and social similarities that citizens of both nations shared and pledged that China will provide any type of support to Nepal.

“It is the Chinese government´s policy to support Nepal safeguard her sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chuntai said at the press meet which featured some video footage that provided background to his statements on China’s strategy on international and regional affairs.

After elaborating how Nepalese and the Chinese people were connected to each other through ‘salt-gold’ trade across the Himalayas or the White Pagoda monument built hundreds of years ago in China, Chuntai focused on delivering home the point- “China looks forward to support its neighbors in their endeavours and of course bringing economic support to Nepal is a priority.”

While adding the cultural exchange dimension in Sino-Nepal ties, Chuntai and the new Chinese leaderships’ stress remained on extending economic cooperation.

But is Nepal ready for it?

Presently with more than US $ 100 million investment, over 20 Chinese companies are actively involved in Nepal’s development and commercial projects. Though Chinese side has expressed willingness and in some cases commitment too, some mega projects have been a victim to ‘unstable politics’ of the recipient country.

West Seti Hydropower, Pokhara International Airport, Kathmandu Ring Road upgrading have been in the offing for some time now. Though Chuntai in the press conference said that progress was being made in implementing these projects, the delay in implementing these projects were primarily victimized by Nepal’s political transition and by what can be called ‘personal-politics’.

Nepal is at the centre of contention among global actors where western and non-western forces are at play. If the recent claims of many Nepali politicians and political analyst is considered, then political stability and a homogenous foreign affairs policy among Nepalese political parties will remain elusive for some time now, at least unless the new constitution is promulgated.

Some months back, Chuntai’s predecessor at the embassy, Yang Houlan, had expressed concern over the growing instability and corresponding friction in implementing development projects in Nepal. Houlan’s concern hinted that even though China was willing to open up its resources for Nepal, lack of stable government and policy was depriving it from it.

China had assisted Nepal in some mega projects in the past too. But as Houlan remembered, those projects were implemented and completed as they faced relatively less friction owing to the centralized governance and ideology at the time.

But again as he figured out, times have changed in Nepal and this time around they are turbulent than ever as the nation continues limping ahead without a constitution to guide it. Adding to it, the growing mistrust and confrontation between Nepal’s major political powers, between major and fringe parties and between national and regional political forces has rendered the nation’s political future uncertain.

An Optimist Strategy:

The new Chinese leadership seemed euphoric in announcing their preparations to leading the global economy and in focusing their diplomatic strategy primarily in the regional affairs. And so was Chuntai’s announcement at the press meet.

The proposed people-to-people and cultural exchanges, which features a Chinese cultural event in Kathmandu in the near future, sure seems to be an effort to strengthen ties between people of both nations and to reinforce the cultural and trade foundations between both nations.

People-to-people exchanges are far better options to build and strengthen existing relationship in comparison to centralized top-down model of assistance. It’s the safest road to build ever-lasting bilateral ties.