It was prime minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai who disclosed in November 15 with the Nepalese media that Chinese premier Wen Jiabao would pay an official visit to Nepal. A month later, it was again he who reported to the media about the postponement of the visit.
As the Chinese side remained tightlipped, nobody knew what was cooking during the one month period between Bhattarai’s two announcements. Media reports were full of speculations and calculations.
“The cancellation was an outcome of the total immaturity and diplomatic misconduct at the highest level of the government,” said Rajeshwar Acharya, former ambassador to China.
Some see it as a violation of diplomatic etiquette by prime minister Bhattarai who prematurely disclosed on November 15 about the visit of the Chinese premier. According to the prime minister, Wen was scheduled to arrive in Nepal on a three-day official visit on December 20.
In a dramatic turn when Nepalese and Indian media were speculating about the possible outcomes, possible treaties, agreements and implications, Chinese officials remained tightlipped. Even Chinese media did not seem to notice the panicky media interpretations.
In his book on China, Henry Kissinger describes China’s approach to diplomacy and international negotiations characterizing it as a “thorough analysis; careful preparation; attention to psychological and political factors; quest for surprise; and rapid conclusion”. These features characterized Mao’s approach to Nehru’s brinkmanship on the McMahon Line in 1962, which drew on the lessons from a 1300 year old war against Indian rulers during the Tang Dynasty (which also involved the Licchavis of Nepal). It consisted of “a massive assault to produce a shock that would impel ... an end to Indian military probing for the foreseeable future”.
Something similar seems to have happened this time too with the sudden “postponement” of Wen Jibao’s visit. Said analyst Dipak Gyawali, “Only this time, China seems to have succeeded in delivering its message to the Indo-US axis without wasting a single shot.”
The blame game goes on in Nepal after the postponement of the reported visit. India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University educated Nepalese prime minister Bhattarai, whose fragile coalition survived in a thin majority supported by reportedly pro-Indian parties from Nepal’s southern plains, was in defense.
“The visit was not cancelled but it was postponed due to internal problems in China,” said prime minister Bhattrai’s personal secretary Bishwo Dip Pandey, citing prime minister’s discussions with the Chinese ambassador to Nepal.
Others disagree. “Prime minister Baburam Bhattarai was responsible for the cancellation of the visit,” said Tanka Karki, former Nepalese ambassador to China. Bhattarai disclosed the date of the visit without following a basic diplomatic practice. This embarrassed the Chinese. Even foreign minister Narayan Kazi Shrestha did not act accordingly,” said Karki.
The Himalaya Times writes, “But sources suggested that possible protests by Free Tibet campaigners were not the only reason behind the cancellation of the visit. A political source claimed that even some ministers from Madhes-based parties were of the opinion that this was not the right time for receiving such a high profile dignitary. Besides, the Chinese side was suspicious about the future of the incumbent government, as its coalition partners and some leaders from PM’s own party were pitching for a unity government.”
Republica Daily writes though the visit had not been formally announced by either side, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai had told media last month that his Chinese counterpart was visiting Nepal from December 20, something contrary to the Chinese tradition of making public such visits just a couple of days beforehand. And preparations by both countries were underway accordingly.
"Though he was supposed to visit Nepal this month, the date had not been finalized,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Narayankaji Shrestha, adding, the visit will be rescheduled through diplomatic channels.
Kantipur reported that Chinese ambassador Yang Houlan handed over a letter to foreign minister Naryan Kazi Shrestha cancelling the trip to Nepal.
One analyst said this is a Mandarin diplomacy. “Chinese got what they wanted without doing anything,” said a Nepalese diplomat on condition of anonymity. Chinese tested the nerves of Nepalese leaders and its neighbor.”
Here ends the game but it is now the turn of the media to speculate and guess.