How Xi Jinping crossed the Nepal hurdle
When Chinese President Xi Jinping boarded his Hongqi limousine in Mamallapuram, he was on his way to the airport and Nepal. Official Chinese media had announced that he would sign an extradition treaty à la Hong Kong with Nepal, partly to squeeze the Tibetan refugees living in the erstwhile Himalayan kingdom.
It was presumed that the 10-hour stop in Kathmandu would be a cakewalk for the all-powerful general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) who was to meet Nepali Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, himself co-chairman of the Nepal Communist Party.
Before the visit, Oli had told Xinhua that Nepal was committed to strengthening its friendship with China and expanding the bilateral ties under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Though the two sides signed some 18 bilateral cooperation documents and agreed to elevate their relationship to a strategic partnership of cooperation, combined with an ever-lasting friendship for development and prosperity, the extradition treaty was never signed.
However, the Chinese media called President Xi’s short visit (the first of a Chinese President in 26 years) a ‘grand success’, even if Kathmandu decided to shelve the treaty and a few other proposals, particularly to build border roads, at the last minute.
Nepal dropped some of its plans “following apprehensions they could infringe on its sovereignty”, according to a financial daily. Instead of the extradition treaty, a milder pact on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters was signed, it added. There were apparently apprehensions “in sections of the Nepalese government that the extradition treaty will be used to clamp down against Tibetans and deportation of Tibetans to China,” according to the newspaper. President Xi was furious; he warned that those not respecting the ‘One China’ policy would be crushed. According to Chinese state media, Xi told the Nepali PM during his stay in Kathmandu: “Anyone attempting to split China in any part of the country will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones. And any external forces backing such attempts at dividing China will be deemed by the Chinese people as pipe-dreaming.” It is indeed rare for a head of state to use such words.
“While the immediate context would have been the Tibet issue… China watchers also saw it as a wider warning that applied to Hong Kong as well after more than four months of civil unrest and street violence,” the South China Morning Post commented. The idea of National Defence University (NDU) similar to the Indian National Defence College, which had been discussed before the visit, was also dropped due to the Opposition’s protests.
Key projects on track
However, important projects impacting India’s security were inked, particularly the enhancement of the trans-Himalayan connectivity network which will eventually allow more Nepali goods to go to China: “We are concentrating ourselves on economic development through the BRI and other bilateral projects, China is our largest supporter,” the Nepali PM declared. While the train from Shigatse to the Nepal border in Kyirong is coming soon, a feasibility study will now start to prolong the line to Kathmandu. “The plateau railway… is considered one of the world’s most difficult railways to engineer. Now, the rail link is finally going to become a reality,” The Global Times observed.
The Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece argued that a cross-Himalayan connectivity network “will have a far-reaching impact throughout Asia, achieving a decades-long dream: Connecting the Chinese and Indian economies.” Though Delhi is probably not informed, China has India in mind while bringing the train to the Nepali capital: “The road to regional economic integration is always bumpy due to complex geopolitical issues, but we believe the three Asian nations can finally find a solution.” Isn’t it amazing that China is making plans involving India without Delhi’s knowledge?
The Ratamate-Rasuwagadhi-Kyirong 400KV cross-border transmission line which will be constructed through a government-to-government (G2G) model shows that despite the extradition treaty fiasco, Nepal and China remain very close; interestingly it “will not be hampered even if the project suffered losses during the construction of the project,” commented myRepublica. Meanwhile, the Second China Tibet Trans-Himalaya Forum for International Cooperation took place in Lulang, north of the Indian border in Arunachal Pradesh, China Daily reported. Here, China discussed the Himalayan connectivity with Nepal, Pakistan and Mongolia. “The forum is expected to help the region push forward its efforts to become an important gateway to South Asia and to build the Trans-Himalaya economic zone to fully integrate it into the Belt and Road Initiative,” said the organisers.
Pakistan was represented by Naghmana Alamgir Hashmi, its ambassador to China, while Gobinda Bahadur Karkee, the Nepali consul general in Lhasa spoke for her country. Jiang Jie, a member of the Standing Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region’s Communist Party said: “We will stick to President Xi Jinping’s concept of neighbouring diplomacy of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness.” Though the cancellation of the extradition treaty was a sign that Nepal can still take decisions on its own, the other projects are bound to change the balance in the region.
India needs to watch attentively.
This article How Xi Jinping crossed the Nepal hurdle appeared in Mail Today/DailyO.