China wary of Indian influence in Nepal

According to reports, the Chinese are dissatisfied that Ambassador Hou Yanqui was powerless to stop Nepali Prime Minister Deuba from proposing the Millennium Challenge Corporation, despite the fact that they successfully killed the American State Partnership Program. They assert that the latter is also a military alliance that violates Nepal’s sovereignty by allowing US forces to enter the country at whim, use its resources, and do so.

CHINA has stepped up its activities in Nepal in recent years. Unlike in the past when security and Nepal’s 25,000-strong Tibetan community were Beijing’s primary concerns, today it gets involved in Nepal’s internal affairs, too. Chinese envoys in Kathmandu closely monitor developments, especially those relating to India. They keep very close contact with the Nepal police and politicians. These linkages built over the years not only facilitate the building of Nepal-China ties, but also advance China’s overt and other efforts to undermine, including insidiously, India’s efforts to strengthen ties with Nepal. Beijing pays equal attention to undermining the Dalai Lama’s influence and standing.

Indicative of Chinese interest was the arrival in Kathmandu on July 10 of Liu Jianchao, head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee’s (CC) influential International Liaison Department (ILD), within a month of Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Lumbini where he declared that “India and Nepal relations are unshakeable like the Himalayas.” Modi also emphasised that “India and Nepal’s ever-strengthening friendship will benefit the entire humanity in the emerging global situation.”

Liu Jianchao came to Kathmandu for a four-day (July 10-13) visit at the head of an eight-member delegation. He was received at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport by Nepali Congress leader Dinesh Bhattarai, UML leader Rajan Bhattarai, Maoist leader Ram Kari and officials of Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Reaching Kathmandu amid Nepal’s somewhat unsettled political conditions, Liu Jianchao’s agenda included cautioning Nepal Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba against trying to unduly warm up ties with the US; reiterating the importance of ensuring that Tibetans do not become active and engage in anti-China activities; stressing the importance of China-Nepal ties; and urging CPN (UML) Chairman KP Oli and CPN (MC) leader Pushpa Kumar Dahal, better known by his nom de guerre Prachanda, to work in unison to ensure the continuing importance of the communists in Nepal’s governments.

Within hours of reaching Kathmandu, Liu Jianchao had a 45-minute meeting with Prime Minister Deuba and Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka and attended a dinner hosted in his honour that evening by Khadka. He called on Nepal’s President Bidya Devi Bhandari the following day.

During these meetings, he advised them to inform China, their ‘trans-Himalayan brother’, of any problems in Nepal. During the meeting, Deuba expressed little interest in the implementation of the BRI project, but stated that Nepal would accept only assistance and no loan from China.

In contrast, Liu Jianchao held lengthy meetings with leaders of the CPN (MC), CPN (US) and CPN (UML) on July 11, 12 and 13. He asserted that ‘unity is strength’ and urged them to unite before the elections.

In separate meetings, these communist leaders urged the implementation of the BRI project and previous agreements reached with China. Liu Jianchao appreciated that Nepal had rejected America’s State Partnership Programme (SPP). He did not meet the Madhes parties and did not interact with any political party other than the ruling Nepali Congress.

Two officials of the Chinese delegation, including the Nepali-speaking Cheng Youfa, along with some interpreters, continue to stay in Kathmandu, apparently to gauge the public response to the visit and ascertain the opinions of Nepali leaders and intellectuals.

It is likely that Liu Jianchao had another undisclosed agenda. Reports suggest that the Chinese are unhappy that their Ambassador Hou Yanqui, who is viewed as very dynamic, could not prevent Deuba from proposing the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), though the Chinese did successfully scuttle the SPP. They claim the latter is a military alliance that allows US troops to enter Nepal at will and use its facilities, infringes Nepal’s sovereignty and directly challenges China.

Chinese embassy officials and the Chinese community in Nepal, however, still blame the Chinese Ambassador for not being able to block the MCC and allowing the Americans to gain influence in Nepal. Shengping Zhou, till recently Director of the Xinhua Branch in Nepal, is reported to be very critical of the Ambassador. Unable to return to China for the briefing before going to his next station, he is still in Kathmandu.

China also sees Nepal as a useful platform for promoting Gyaincain Norbu, the China-appointed Panchen Lama, and getting Buddhists internationally to recognise him as the genuine Panchen Lama. This is an important pre-requisite for legitimising Beijing’s procedures for ‘approving’ high-ranking Tibetan Buddhist religious personages as ‘Tulkus’ or ‘Rimpoches’ through a draw of lots. Despite the lapse of 25 years, however, China’s efforts have been unsuccessful. Tibetan Buddhists have only now begun to acknowledge Gyaincain Norbu as a ‘very learned monk’, but not yet the Panchen Lama!

To promote Gyaincain Norbu and undercut India’s influence and embarrass New Delhi, the Chinese authorities, over six months ago, planned a visit to Lumbini by Gyaincain Norbu.

Coincidentally, rumours of a Chinese funding for Lumbini have also revived. His presence was to coincide with Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Lumbini and the inauguration of the International Buddhist Congregation (IBC) office in mid-May. And with disregard for Indian sensitivities, the Chinese got the approvals from Nepal’s Home and Foreign Ministries and sent some people in advance to greet and ‘support’ the Panchen Lama. The visit was finally not permitted, but had it materialised, it would have been an embarrassment for India and Modi.

Liu Jianchao’s visit and that planned for the China-appointed Panchen Lama highlight the depth and extent of Chinese influence in Nepal. China’s influence among Nepal’s officials and politicians and, particularly, the police appear to be rather pervasive.

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