China, India woo Nepal’s political parties ahead of general elections

Under no circumstances would New Delhi like to see a break in the recent momentum in bilateral relations generated through increased economic and developmental cooperation, even if there is a change of the government in Kathmandu later this year, writes Shraddha Nand Bhatnagar for South Asia Monitor

Shraddha Nand Bhatnagar Jul 17, 2022
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Wang Yi, China's foreign minister, in Kathmandu and Nepal prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, in India

With general elections due in a few months in Nepal, its big neighbours, China and India, started reaching out to key political parties, intending to secure their core interests in the strategically placed Himalayan nation amid the global geopolitical flux.  

Under no circumstances would New Delhi like to see a break in the recent momentum in bilateral relations generated through increased economic and developmental cooperation, even if there is a change of the government in Kathmandu later this year. Washington's growing interest in Nepal has also caused unease in Beijing. 

Splits in the communist party last year and the emergence of the Nepali Congress, currently the main party in the ruling coalition, have further muddied the political atmosphere, giving no clear indication of which party or coalition would emerge victorious in the upcoming general elections.

China's outreach

Last week, a senior Chinese official, Liu Zianchao, visited Nepal and met leaders of the Nepali Congress and other communist parties. Liu is the head of the International Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.

The visit was the second high-level visit from China after the change of the government in Nepal. Earlier, Wang Yi, China's foreign minister, visited Kathmandu in March amid exchanges between the United States and Nepal.

Notably, that message was also reflected in the statement issued by China's International Liaison Department.

The statement said that while the world was going through "profound changes" and entering into a "turbulent period", "the Communist Party of China is willing to strengthen strategic communication with the Nepali Congress, promote mutually beneficial cooperation, deepen exchanges and mutual learning, and on issues involving each other's core interests and major concerns."

Wooing Nepali Congress

Pushed on the backfoot after the split in the erstwhile Nepal Communist Party (NCP), and the subsequent fall of the communist government, China is now attempting to mend ties with all political parties in Nepal, including the Nepali Congress, which it considers as pro-US and pro-India.

Over the last few months, renewed push in Nepal's ties with India and the United States by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba seems to have generated urgency in Beijing to reach out to the Nepali Congress rather than waiting for a new government or a possible unity government through a coalition of left parties in Nepal.

In 2017, China was a key force behind the merger of two key left parties in Nepal, the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) led by KP Sharma Oli and the Communist Party of Nepal (MC) led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda. That unification unravelled in 2020.

Significantly, during Liu's visit, Narayan Kaji Shreshtha, a senior leader of the CPN-MC, confirmed, "Chinese did tell us that Nepali communist parties should come together but they did not prescribe any suggestion on unity among the communist parties." 

However, the visit signifies that Beijing seems no longer averse to engaging with the Nepali Congress.

Dahal's India visit
 
On the other hand, former Nepal prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, the leader of the CPN-MC, the largest party in the current ruling coalition, was in New Delhi where he met with Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and senior leaders of India's ruling BJP.

The visit, at the invitation of BJP president J P Nadda, is of great significance. India's experience with Dahal in the past hasn't been great as New Delhi considers him a China-leaning politician.

In 2008, Dahal as the prime minister, chose to visit China as his first foreign destination, breaking the age-old tradition of Nepali prime minsters choosing India as the destination for their first foreign visit. Later, he also openly blamed India for the fall of his government.

Delhi's balanced strategy

The turbulence in Nepal-India ties in the last decade, mainly caused by China's growing influence in Kathmandu, hasn't either country well. Politically, Dahal's party is currently struggling and isn't expected to do well if it chooses to fight elections on its own.

On the other hand, the survival of the now year-old alliance between Dahal's CPN MC with the Nepali Congress seems to have generated an impression that his party will be a crucial player, if not a leading player in the upcoming election.

Under no circumstances would New Delhi like to see a break in the recent momentum in bilateral relations generated through increased economic and developmental cooperation, even if there is a change of the government in Kathmandu later this year. Thus, outreach to all political parties, without exception, is a reasonable and pragmatic step to take.

(SAM)

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