Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Nov 29, 2022 Updated 4 Days ago
Beijing hopes for the left to emerge victorious in Nepal so that China can reset its ties with the latter and push for its interests
China’s stakes in the Nepal election The Chinese are closely following the recent Nepalese election. The last few months saw China carrying out back-to-back high-level exchanges with Nepal. In March 2022, days after the Nepalese parliament ratified the much-debated United States (US) Millennium Challenge Corporation(MCC) Compact, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid a state visit to Kathmandu and expounded on China's “Three Supports” for Nepal in terms of “blazing a development path suited to its national conditions, … in pursuing independent domestic and foreign policies… and in participating in Belt and Road cooperation to a greater extent”. Following this, the Nepalese Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka paid a three-day visit to China from 9-11 August 2022 at the invitation of Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi where the “One China” principle, Belt and Road Initiative figured prominently. From 12th to 15th September, Li Zhanshu, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of China, paid an official goodwill visit to Nepal where he met President Bidya Devi Bhandari, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, along with the chiefs of various communist parties including KP Sharma Oli of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the Maoist Party, and the presiding officers of both houses of parliament (Nepal House of Representatives Speaker, Agni Prasad Sapkota and Timir Sina, Chairman of the Nepalese Federal House) who also belong to the communist parties. Finally, only a few days before the Nepal election, reportedly despite Nepal’s reticence, a delegation led by the Chinese Vice Minister of Culture and Tourism, Li Qun, paid a five-day visit to Nepal.

The Nepalese Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka paid a three-day visit to China from 9-11 August 2022 at the invitation of Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi where the “One China” principle, Belt and Road Initiative figured prominently.

Diplomatic outreach by China

What explains China’s intensified diplomatic outreach towards Nepal? Writings by Chinese scholars indicate that China, which reportedly brokered the communist alliance in Nepal back in 2017, is still reeling under the impact of the collapse of the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) government in Nepal in March 2021. Interestingly, sections within the Chinese strategic community are of the opinion that apart from internal factors like sectarianism, utilitarianism which plagued the CPN since the very beginning, the US-Nepal Millennium Challenge Agreement, as an external factor, too played an important role in further intensifying the internal struggle among the communist factions<1>. They accuse the US of manipulating various internal contradictions (discord over the distribution of power, guiding ideology, governance technique etc) within the Nepalese Communist Party and using the Millennium Challenge Agreement as a wedge to further provoke conflict between the Oli faction and the Prachanda faction, eventually splitting the party, weakening its strength and slowing down the communist movement in Nepal<2>. India’s strategic silence over this major development in Nepal is interpreted as it acquiescing to the US and joining forces with it in Nepal against China. Overall, Chinese scholars interpret the collapse of CPN as a big win for both the US and India<3>. China, clearly prefers an all-powerful communist regime in Nepal, replicating CPC and its governance model, which attaches greater importance to Nepal developing relations with China and prioritising Chinese interests. Chinese scholars often reminisce how since the CPN came to power in 2018, China-Nepal relations made rapid progress, high-level visits between the two countries intensified, and cooperation in various fields advanced steadily<4>. The CPC and CPN held frequent exchanges and jointly held theoretical seminars and other activities; in October 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Nepal, which promoted the comprehensive cooperation between the two parties and the two countries. On the other hand, under the impetus of the CPN, the Nepalese House of Representatives unanimously passed the constitutional amendment on 13 June  2020, formally including the three areas in dispute with India into the territory of Nepal, securing a big win for China in South Asian geopolitics<5>.

India’s strategic silence over this major development in Nepal is interpreted as it acquiescing to the US and joining forces with it in Nepal against China.

In the Chinese assessment, the split of the CPN is a watershed moment in the history of the communist movement in Nepal and will have far-reaching consequences in Nepal’s political space as well as in China-Nepal relations<6>. It is noted with concern that the impact of the split was felt not only at the central government level but also at the provincial and local levels. Six provincial governments originally led by the CPN were reorganised and the Congress Party made their way in, including in provinces such as  Gandaki and Karnali, located across the Tibet border<7>. With the Congress Party coming to power, Chinese scholars believe that Nepal is gradually moving away from China. For instance, it is noted with concern in China that after the Deuba government came to power, it decided to form a high-level committee to study the border problem in the Humla district along the Nepal-China border, and inspect the issue of China occupying Nepalese territory<8>. Although earlier the CPN government had issued a statement on this, saying that the border between China and Nepal has been demarcated and there is no problem. However, after the Congress Party came to power, it still formed a committee to study the possible “problems” on the Sino-Nepalese border again, which had clearly rattled the Chinese side<9>. Secondly, China is concerned about a US-India convergence of interest in Nepal, which it feels will adversely affect the progress of China’s BRI in Nepal. It is argued that as MCC Agreement gets implemented, the US can use economic aid to increase its intervention in Nepal, and together with India, it can influence Nepal to slow down the China-Nepal Belt and Road projects, and prioritise the cooperation projects between the US, India, and Nepal towards the South of Nepal<10>. Thirdly, the Chinese concern is that the stronger presence of the US and other major powers such as European countries and Japan in Nepal, together with India, may give a fresh lease of life to the somewhat dormant Tibetan movement<11>. This may further complicate China’s plan to open up the land-locked, economically distressed, depopulating Tibet Autonomous Region and enable it to access the bustling Indian market through Nepal under the BRI banner.

The Chinese concern is that the stronger presence of the US and other major powers such as European countries and Japan in Nepal, together with India, may give a fresh lease of life to the somewhat dormant Tibetan movement

Therefore, there is an urgency among Chinese policymakers to reset ties with Nepal, push it harder to commit to Chinese interests, particularly the Belt and Road Initiative and the security-cum-economic development of Tibet’s border regions with Nepal. China’s other key interest is to rejuvenate the “leftist” alliance in Nepal, expand the strength of the “left-wing” political parties, urging the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center) to cooperate once more in the provincial and federal elections to achieve power again and thereby promote, what it calls, the vigorous development of the communist movement in Nepal.
<1> Dai Yonghong, Ji Guangl, “尼美千禧年挑战协议对尼共及中尼关系的影响与应对.当代世界社会主义问题” (The impact of the Nepal-US Millennium Challenge Agreement on the Nepalese Communist Party and China-Nepal relations and response),2022(02):131-139.DOI:10.16012/j.cnki.88375471.2022.02.016. <2> Ibid. <3> Ibid. <4> Ibid. <5> Tang Xin, Zhang Shubin “尼泊尔共产党合并失败的原因和教训”( The Reasons and Lessons of the Failed Merger of the Communist Party of Nepal), South Asian Studies . 2022, (01) <6> Ibid. <7> Dai Yonghong, Ji Guangl, “尼美千禧年挑战协议对尼共及中尼关系的影响与应对.当代世界社会主义问题” (The impact of the Nepal-US Millennium Challenge Agreement on the Nepalese Communist Party and China-Nepal relations and response),2022(02):131-139.DOI:10.16012/j.cnki.88375471.2022.02.016. <8> Dai Yonghong, Ji Guangl, “尼美千禧年挑战协议对尼共及中尼关系的影响与应对.当代世界社会主义问题” (The impact of the Nepal-US Millennium Challenge Agreement on the Nepalese Communist Party and China-Nepal relations and response),2022(02):131-139.DOI:10.16012/j.cnki.88375471.2022.02.016. <9> Ibid. <10> Ibid. <11> Ji Guang-li Dai Yong-Hong, “Border Security Community: China-Nepal's Collaborative Governance of Border Security”, Journal of Tibet University. 2022(01) Page: 223-231
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Author

Antara Ghosal Singh

Antara Ghosal Singh

Antara Ghosal Singh is a Fellow at the Strategic Studies Programme at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. Her area of research includes China-India relations, China-India-US ...

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