Beijing in bid to engage Congress as it explores unity of leftist forces in Nepal

Months after China took a tough stance on how Nepal should accept foreign aid from any country vis-a-vis its arch-rival the United States, Liu Jianchao, the head of International Relations Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, arrived in Kathmandu on Sunday, marking the second high-level visit from the north since Nepalese parliamentarians ratified the US Millennium Challenge Corporation pact.

Liu, whose visit comes about four months after that of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, has been busy holding meetings with politicians from across the political spectrum.

On Tuesday, Liu held talks with KP Sharma Oli, the chairman of the main opposition party CPN-UML. Immediately after arriving in Kathmandu on Sunday, he paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs Narayan Khadka. On Monday, he met the chairman of the CPN (Maoist Centre), Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Liu is due to visit President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Wednesday before concluding his visit to Nepal.

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“At a historic moment when the world is undergoing profound changes not seen in a century and the world is entering a period of turbulent changes, the Chinese Communist Party is willing to strengthen strategic communication with the Nepalese Congress, promote mutual cooperation beneficial, to deepen exchanges and mutual learning, and on issues involving each other’s core interests and major concerns,” the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee said in a statement Monday after Liu’s meeting with Prime Minister Deuba. “We should support each other, implement the important consensus reached by General Secretary Xi Jinping during his visit to Nepal in October 2019, and push forward the continuous development of the China-Nepalese Generational Strategic Partnership towards development and prosperity, in order to benefit both countries and both peoples.

The Nepalese side reaffirmed its commitment to the one-China policy. According to a Congress leader who was present at the dinner hosted by Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka, the Nepalese side indicated that Nepal will not allow any force to use its soil against any of its neighbors and wishes maintaining good relations with China despite the two countries having different political and social systems.

“Our implicit message to the Chinese official was that Beijing should view all political parties in Nepal with the same eyes and should not encourage one type of grouping against another,” the Congress leader told the Post.

It seems obvious that China wants to maintain good relations with all political parties in Nepal, but within the Congress, concerns remain whether Beijing tries to revive unity – or an alliance – between Nepal’s communist parties.

This time, it seems the Chinese have returned to their old strategy of gaining the trust of all parties and engaging with all political groups, according to a Maoist leader.

“We noticed that they praised their meetings with Nepalese Congress leaders,” the Maoist leader told the Post, on condition of anonymity.

When the then Nepalese Communist Party (NCP), born of the merger between the UML and the Maoist Center, was on the verge of implosion, Hou Yanqi, the Chinese ambassador to Kathmandu, had a series of interviews with several communist leaders. in an apparent attempt to save the party. But the NCP collapsed on March 7 last year after a court order invalidated it.

Liu took over from Song Tao in early June and by the third week of the month he had held talks with Dahal and Oli, continuing what his predecessors had done.

Experts say that while it is natural for CCP leaders to have close ties with Nepalese communist parties, Liu’s visit this time also sends the message that he is not averse to having ties with the Congress, which Beijing sees as a more pro-America party.

Remarks by Chinese officials earlier this year, as Nepal intensely debated ratifying the US$500 million grant, raised many eyebrows in Kathmandu, as they had never seen Beijing come out so assertive on internal affairs of Nepal. In back-to-back remarks in February ahead of parliamentary passage of the MCC pact, Beijing spoken against US “coercive diplomacy” and called US aid a “Pandora’s box”.

Just as Liu held his meeting with Dahal in Kathmandu on Monday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang warned in a policy speech in Jakarta that countries should avoid being used as “chess pieces” by the big powers of the region which “risk being reshaped by geopolitical factors.

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Speaking to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Wang said many countries in the region “are under pressure to take sides”.

When meeting Dahal on Monday, Liu said China respects the decision made by Nepal’s leaders, government and political parties, according to Narayan Kaji Shrestha, head of the Maoist Center’s international department.

“They expressed concerns that Nepal should be careful when taking on assistance or development projects so as not to harm China’s interests,” Shrestha said.

Liu also raised issues such as the US-led Indo-Pacific strategy during the meeting with Maoist leaders.

“The United States had declared its policy through the Indo-Pacific strategy that it aims to contain China. They therefore urged us to remain cautious in the face of such policies from a third country which may have serious consequences for China,” Shrestha said.

But as widely expected, the Chinese side has not pushed much for unity among Nepal’s communist parties, according to at least three communist leaders.

Shrestha said the Chinese wondered why Nepal’s left-wing parties split frequently and why they couldn’t stay together longer or even forever.

“As sympathizers, the Chinese told us that the Nepalese communist parties should come together, but they made no suggestion about unity among the communist parties,” Shrestha told the Post.

When meeting with Oli on Tuesday, Liu talked about the smooth relations enjoyed by Nepal and China and said China would never interfere in Nepal’s internal affairs.

“The visiting delegation told us that the Nepalese leaders and parties have made decisions on their own that China respects,” said Rajan Bhattarai, head of UML’s external relations department. “They were also delighted that all major political parties in Nepal are committed to the one-China policy while Beijing has always respected Nepal’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.”

Regarding the Belt and Road Initiative, which Nepal joined in May 2017, UML leaders and the visiting Chinese delegation agreed to expedite projects under it, according to Bhattarai.

He, however, said there were no talks of unity between left-wing parties as widely speculated in the public sphere.

Later on Tuesday, the visiting Chinese delegation held talks with the leaders of the CPN (Unified Socialist), including President Madhav Kumar Nepal.

At the meeting, according to senior leader Jhalanath Khanal, the Chinese team said it was up to the Nepalese communist forces to decide whether they wanted to unite, as they reiterated Beijing’s commitment to continue supporting and d helping Nepal.

The CPC delegation also welcomed Nepal’s decision not to participate in the SPP, according to Khanal.

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The SPP had once become a bone of contention in Nepal, and after the controversy, the Nepalese government decided on June 21 to stay away from the US program.

According to diplomats and experts, Liu’s visit to Kathmandu shortly after taking over as head of the CCP’s International Liaison Department reflects Beijing’s growing assertiveness in Kathmandu due to some of the policies the Nepalese government has adopted to to seek support from reliable friends in Nepal. .

Rajeshwar Acharya, a former Nepalese ambassador to China, said the visit had at least three elements: geopolitical changes, Beijing’s renewed interest in Nepal and its security concerns.

Adoption of MCC pact, discussions of Nepal’s participation in Washington State Partnership Program and subsequent US visits have made China wary of its security concerns, Acharya says .

“The Chinese might have thought that the way the Americans are expanding their influence in Nepal could pose a security challenge in Tibet and encourage free movement in Tibet,” Acharya said.

In May, during his visit, Uzra Zeya, US Undersecretary for Civil Security, Democracy and Human rights who is also the special coordinator for Tibetan affairs in the Biden administration, had visited Tibetan camps in Kathmandu and held talks with some Tibetan leaders. Although the Chinese did not talk about it, they had to take it into account, say diplomats and experts.

“The increasing US activities in Nepal are a source of concern for the Chinese,” Acharya said. “The Chinese may think it would be difficult for Nepal to avoid US commitments. They fly to Kathmandu to remind us of the presence of Nepal’s all-weather friend in the north.

Moreover, according to Acharya, since Liu’s visit takes place before the elections, it is obvious that the Chinese are keen on gathering leftist forces in their quest for a reliable political force in Nepal.

Liu’s delegation is arguably the first from China to visit the BP Museum, named after BP Koirala, the Nepali Congress revolutionary, in Sundarijal, on the outskirts of Kathmandu.

Acharya said it also shows that the Chinese want to work closely with the Nepalese Congress.

Above all, Beijing wants assurances from Kathmandu that its legitimate security concerns must not be compromised by any action by the Nepalese government and political parties, according to Acharya.

Some experts believe that the Chinese delegation wanted to assess the possibility of unity among Nepalese communist forces and also send a message to Congress that they are comfortable working with it.

“Beijing seems to be trying to revise its Nepalese policy and wants to reconnect with the Nepalese Congress, and that makes sense,” said Mrigendra Kumar Karki, executive director of the Center for Nepal and South Asian Studies.

“They had encouraged communist forces to unite, which led to the formation of the NCP,” Karki said. “But despite their attempts, the party collapsed. This must have made them aware of the fragmented history of left-wing parties in Nepal. Now they seem eager to renew their commitments with the Nepalese Congress.

The Chinese message by visiting the BP Museum in Congress could be to act as a sovereign party just like BP Koirala, which Beijing considers a “sovereign leader”, according to Karki.

“Congress is seen as a party historically and ideologically close to India and the West,” Karki said. “But the late BP Koirala had excellent relations with China. He supported China at the United Nations. The Chinese must also have realized that they have to work with all political parties in Nepal, including the Congress.

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