President of China, Xi Jinping, landed in Kathmandu Saturday evening. He has a hectic schedule—meeting with his Nepali counterpart Bidya Devi Bhandari, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, president of Nepali Congress Sher Bahadur Deuba, the chairman of Nepal Communist Party Pushpa Kamal Dahal, attending other functions, signing of deals and so on. He has been given the guard of honor and by personally receiving him at the airport, President Bhandari and Prime Minister Oli have given him the importance he deserves. Xi's visit to Nepal, the first of its kind since 1996, will be a new milestone in bilateral relation between Nepal and China. President Xi, huan ying lai dao, Nepal (welcome to Nepal)—the land of Buddha and the land with which China shares age-old relations.
Since the date of Xi’s visit was confirmed last week, Nepali press has brought out many sides of the personality of the most powerful leader after Mao in China and perhaps the most powerful leader in the world. Nepali public has read about his childhood, his struggle and his vision to 'rejuvenate' China. Nepali public and the government seem equally excited about his trip, the evidence of goodwill China enjoys in Nepal. Above a dozen agreements are expected to be signed during this trip. We will comment on the contents of those agreements after the details emerge. We believe the context of this visit is equally important for Nepal and China to take note of. It might be a mere coincidence that President Xi’s visit is happening at the time when the government in Kathmandu is led by a communist party. Even if the government was led by some other party, the visit would still be looked up with importance. Nepal lags far behind in infrastructure development, even basic connectivity infrastructure like roads. Because of lack of functioning connectivity with the north, Nepal historically depended on India for third country trade. This overreliance backfired in 2015. When India blockaded Nepal, Nepal felt literally choked, with nowhere else to go to bring in supplies. China would have been an alternative if we had functioning roads linking Nepal with China. We had none. It was then that the government of the day (which was led by current prime minister K P Sharma Oli) and the people as a whole decided that we needed an opening up of trade and transit with China too. Nepali expectations for something substantial to take place on connectivity during President Xi's visit should be understood in this context.
President Xi Jinping’s visit is important for many other reasons. Xi today represents the country whose development model has been looked up with awe and admiration by other countries around the world. Its spectacular rise as the second largest economy of the world has drawn the attention of everyone. In Nepal, Xi is coming four months before 'Visit Nepal 2020' will officially start. China is one major source of tourists of Nepal. Xi's assertion in his recent op-ed that "Nepal is the first South Asian country to be designated an approved destination for Chinese tourists" is expected to draw many more tourists to Nepal. Presidential visit to Nepal from China is happening for the first time after 23 years (the last Chinese president to land in Kathmandu being Jian Zemin in 1996). Bilateral relations are often guided by expectations and reciprocity. Nepal may have its expectations of assistance from China for its infrastructure development. But China also wants to be assured from Nepali side that its core concerns are respected. Perhaps, this is how the diplomacy functions everywhere. Also in diplomacy, when the heads of states or governments meet, just meet, it becomes meaningful. What actually Nepal will gain in concrete terms will be known, and can be commented on, after the conclusion of the visit. For the moment, the important thing is he is here in Nepal. And he has been rightly accorded the highest honor.