Amid their border standoff in Sikkim, India and China seem to be busy courting their neighbour Nepal, with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang scheduled to visit the country this month.
Swaraj is arriving on August 10 to participate in the BIMSTEC ministerial meeting to be held in Kathmandu, while Wang, considered the ‘Nepal hand’ in Chinese Communist Party, will come calling on August 14, according to Nepal’s foreign affairs ministry.
Their trips come ahead of the planned state visit of Nepal’s Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba to India from August 23. China is sending the top official to Kathmandu to check the pulse of the new government which is labelled as “close with India,” according to sources here.
“The visits ahead of Deuba’s trip naturally gives a message that Delhi and Beijing are trying to assert their positions and extend their influence in Nepal, whose location is geostrategically sensitive,” said a senior official.
Swaraj’s trip will set a tone for the India visit of Deuba and would focus on India’s long-standing interest in Nepal, the sources said.
In the midst of a new political dispensation in Nepal, the worry of Beijing is loud and clear and it also wants to safeguard its interests with Nepal that shares a long border with Tibet.
By exerting pressure on successive governments in Nepal, Beijing has successfully imposed its interest in Kathmandu. Nepal government’s signing of an agreement on President Xi Jinping’s One Belt One Road Initiative, joint military drills and award of a 12,00mw hydro electric project to a Chinese firm without competitive bidding are among examples.
The India-China tensions pose a serious danger to Nepal, experts said, urging the government to take appropriate measures to safeguard its national interest.
Nepal needs to preserve its territory, as the fight among big powers have proven “ cruel” to smaller nations, former foreign minister Ramesh Nath Pandey said, adding several nations lost their identities when such wars erupted.
After Nepal inked the OBOR pact with China, the activities of the Chinese in Kathmandu have increased. A series of meetings and seminars were held on how Nepal can take advantage from OBOR. Hundreds of Nepali scholars, officials, journalists and people from various walks of life were taken to China to create a public opinion in favour of the deal.
During his four-day visit, Wang is expected to discuss OBOR, review China-funded projects in Nepal as well as bilateral ties at a time when Nepal maintains neutral position in the India-China face-off .
“We do not know why he is coming but the underlying meaning is to tell Nepal to safeguard China’s interest in Nepal,” an official said.
Nepal has not made clear its position on the India-China standoff, but has been saying it is keenly watching the developments.
Deuba’s five-day visit to India is quite significant due to Nepal’s close ties with India and given the political backdrop, including India’s moral support to executing a new constitution in Nepal.
The Madhes-based parties, an important political force in Nepal, are yet to agree on participating in the third round of local polls slated for September 18 whereas the government needs to conclude elections to the federal and provincial parliament by January 21 next year.