China the emerging ring master of Nepal?by OPINIONEXPRESS.IN July 11, 2020 0 comments
It is time for the people to question the Government, especially KP Oli, for turning a blind eye to Chinese high-handedness
The recent border issues raised by Nepal show structural deficiencies in building trust and willingness to keep relations with India healthy. The self-centred politicisation of centuries-old peaceful ties exposes the darker side of Nepalese Prime Minister KP Oli. He has not only derailed the prospects of peace and cooperation between Nepal and India, but his hollow projection of nationalism, solely based on anti-India manoeuvring, exhibits his short-sightedness to serve vested interests in the political and diplomatic space of Nepal. This includes his growing closeness and frequent interactions with China.
On the other hand, Nepal’s ruling Communist Party (NCP) has intensified its demand for Oli’s resignation for failing to contain COVID-19, derailing the economy, endangering the right to freedom, including that of the Press, and accusing India of conspiring against him politically. Amid all this, Oli can be seen misusing his power to influence the office of the President in unilaterally issuing ordinances to ease the process of splitting a party to protect his position as Prime Minister in case his party splits.
Although the Standing Committee of the NCP has lashed out at Oli for misusing his power and accusing India, Oli has turned a deaf ear to such calls and is openly entertaining Chinese assertiveness in the domestic and foreign affairs of Nepal. If reports in the Nepalese media are to be believed, it is Oli’s arrogance that has driven his pro-China campaign, at the cost of destroying friendly ties with India. While Oli’s new-found love for China is a challenge to India, a pro-active and meddling Beijing is a bigger concern for Nepal itself.
Even though China has penetrated the Nepalese political space, Oli is not paying heed since recent moves by the Chinese Ambassador in Nepal are aimed to protect his interests. Ambassador Hou Yanqi has been meeting with the members of the NCP to keep Oli in office. Her direct meetings with the Prime Minister are cherry on the cake for China. However, Yanqi attracted criticism after she held a one-on-one meeting with the President of Nepal on June 5, a day before the Standing Committee of the NCP was to decide on Oli’s fate. While the agenda of the meeting was not revealed, it is clear that China wishes Oli to continue as the Prime Minister.
On his part, Oli is hell-bent on bringing a Chinese-style one-party rule in Nepal. Members of the Communist Party of China were invited to provide training to the Central Committee members of the NCP before its second convention was to begin in Kathmandu on February 15. At the convention, NCP allegedly passed a resolution to amend the Constitution to make Nepal a “People’s Democracy” from the existing “People’s multi-party Democracy.” In case, the NCP pushes to remove the word “multi-party” from the Constitution, it will further lead the country towards a one-party rule.
This pro-China inclination may be considered an independent sovereign act of a country. But allowing Chinese intervention in the political affairs of Nepal is dangerous. While the high-handedness of Yanqi is not a hidden fact, pumping of Chinese funds through the Madan Bhandari Foundation, named after a late Communist leader seen as a source of Oli’s political aspirations, needs to be seen.
It was Yanqi who had convinced Oli and his administration to sign a extradition treaty during Xi Jinping’s visit to Nepal last October. While the treaty was not signed due to internal opposition, Oli gifted a Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters on the lines of the extradition treaty to China. The treaty has not only jeopardised the fate of 13,000 Tibetans living in Nepal but Kathmandu has also risked violating the pact with the UNHCR to protect the rights of Tibetan refugees.
The frequent meetings between the Chinese officials and officers of the Nepal Army give a clear understanding of the Chinese mindset in Nepal for two reasons. One, the army has always been looked upon as the most stable institution in Nepal. No matter the political party in power, a stable relationship with the army will prove beneficiary for Chinese interests in Nepal. Two, in the last three years, the security cooperation between China and Nepal has moved from minimal to an advanced level. To promote ties in the security sector, China and Nepal have continued to strengthen cooperation through the exchange of visits of security personnel, joint exercises and training, disaster prevention and reduction, personnel training and supply of arms and ammunition to the Nepalese army.
Also, the Chinese business community in Nepal has been defying domestic laws of the host country, but local political support has kept it safe. Thamel, a tourist spot in the heart of Kathmandu known for lavish restaurants and hostels, has a complete area allegedly owned by the Chinese. They are known to lease properties from Nepali owners on a maximum bid and run these hotels and restaurants with all-Chinese staff, who allegedly visit Nepal on tourist visas. Similar cases of fraud have come into the public sphere where Chinese-run hotels in Nepal accept payments through the China-owned WeChat app. Meaning, the Chinese tourists do not make cash transactions in local currency or on local online payment platforms. Therefore, revenue contribution by the Chinese tourists has negative implications for the Nepalese tourism industry.
In December 2019, 122 Chinese nationals were arrested by the Nepal Police for their involvement in cybercrimes and bank frauds. Later, these criminals were deported at the request of the Chinese Government and to provide an explanation to the media, the police claimed that it had failed to frame charges against them. China is known to have little respect for the laws of other countries but local support from the Prime Minister’s office is indeed a sell-off. It is believed that Oli had personally attempted to avoid embarrassing China by deporting these criminals. In February, the editor of a leading English daily in Nepal was also forced to resign after the newspaper ran an op-ed on the Coronavirus and questioned the Chinese Government’s intentions in hiding its spread.
For years, leaders in Nepal have propagated a neutral position between India and China, knowing the importance of both the neighbours in trade, transit and security. They have also understood the geographical compulsions of a landlocked Nepal, but with his hollow acts of ultra-nationalism, Oli has merely served his personal aspirations.
In reality, a Chinese-style political system in Nepal will be a curse on Nepal’s long fight for democracy, where thousands had sacrificed their lives. Nepal has examples of Chinese debt-traps in Sri Lanka and Africa and brain-washing in Pakistan. Therefore, it is time for the people to question the Government, especially Oli, for turning a blind eye to Chinese high-handedness.
(Writer: Rishi Gupta; Courtesy: The Pioneer)