News Analysis

Liu’s message: Room for improvement in relations

Published On: December 21, 2016 08:13 AM NPT By: Kosh Raj Koirala  | @KoshRKoirala

KATHMANDU, Dec 21: Visiting Political Bureau and Secretariat member of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Liu Qibao, wrapped up his three-day official visit to Nepal on Tuesday, marking the highest level visit of any Chinese leader to Kathmandu in the year 2016.

As it took place amid the cancellation of what was described as a planned visit here by Chinese  President Xi Jinping earlier this year, the visit by Liu, who is one of the close aides of President Xi and a potential top leader of China in future, assumes big significance for Nepal. 

The fact that Liu chose to make Nepal the first leg of his three-country visit -- the two other countries being Laos and Vietnam-- indicates the importance China attaches to this country. While Liu made clear that China wants enhanced engagements with Nepal, he also did not make any efforts to hide the fact that China has certain sensitivities that Nepali political leaders have failed to fully appreciate. 

Former foreign secretary Madhu Raman Acharya said the visit by Liu seems to have been focused on maintaining political engagements with Nepal even as the bilateral relationship does not seem to have been moving at its natural pace in recent days. “We have to take into account what diplomats say and do in order to decipher the message they intend to convey. Going by the things that have come out in the public domain, China seems to be concerned that its sensitivities are not fully appreciated in Nepal,” he said. 

As China has not yet formally said ‘no’ to the much-anticipated visit by President Xi to Nepal, the  Liu visit  could be aimed at assessing the situation here. “Although there seems to be a perception among the Chinese that Nepal has now tilted disproportionately towards India, China appears to uphold its longstanding policy of continuing its engagements with Nepal,” said former Nepali ambassador to the UN Prof Jayaraj Acharya.

Nepal and China had reached various agreements during the premiership of K P Oli. China, according to government officials, has expressed its displeasure over the lack of progress in the implementation of those deals, especially after the fall of the Oli government in August. Some tangible progress in the implementation of these deals, and adequate preparations on the part of the government over other major deals including mega infrastructure development projects are a must for any high-level visit.

As such, Liu did not say whether the Chinese president would visit  Nepal, but he maintained that exchange of high level visits would help to further strengthen relations between the two countries. “China never had a policy of leaving everything in Nepal to India. Nor does it have such a policy now,” Acharya further said, while adding that China’s commitment to help Nepal in safeguarding its sovereignty and territorial integrity remains unflinching. 

During his visit to Nepal, Liu held meetings with President Bidya Devi Bhandari and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and conveyed a message that China stands ready to extend support to Nepal in all areas of mutual interest including in the development of infrastructure, improvement of connectivity, promotion of trade and investment, and cooperation in the tourism sector.

However, Liu chose  to send his deputy for a meeting with Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba and CPN-UML Chairman K P Oli, citing ‘illness’. “Liu appeared in good health when he held nearly an hour-long meeting with Prime Minister Dahal. The diplomatic illness could be an attempt to convey a subtle message of dissatisfaction,” said government officials. 

It may be recalled that China had expressed serious reservations over NC President Deuba’s attending a function organized by the India Foundation in Goa, India, at which Tibetan leader  Lobsang Sangay was also a participant. Liu was supposed to hold a meeting with Deuba and then with Oli as per his original itinerary.

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