KATHMANDU, June 14: After his three-day visit to India in April, Prime Minister KP Oli is set to pay a six-day official visit to China beginning June 19. The date of his visit was simultaneously announced by both Kathmandu and Beijing on Wednesday.
Unlike his previous visits, this visit, political observers in Kathmandu say, holds significance mainly for three reasons. First, Prime Minister Oli through this visit seeks to reinforce a message that Nepal is in favor of maintaining balanced relations with both India and China, allaying concerns that it would play one neighbor against the other.
Shortly after assuming office, Prime Minister Oli chose to pay a three-day state visit to India in April despite “difficult” relations with New Delhi in his previous stint as prime minister in 2015. Oli not only paid the visit to New Delhi, but also welcomed a reciprocal visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Nepal.
Second, the visit is expected to win Prime Minister Oli additional goodwill, trust and support of China in the days ahead. Oli is the strongest executive head ever in recent history in Nepal with over two-thirds majority in parliament. As it is widely believed that the Chinese side feels more comfortable working with a leftist government, especially after the fall of monarchy, the visit could further deepen the relations between the two countries at the government level.
Prime Minister Oli has been advocating for economic prosperity in the country since election. As the recently unveiled policy and programs of the government also lays emphasis on it, the visit provides an opportunity to ink agreements on some major infrastructure projects under the framework of Belt and Road Initiatives (BRI)—the China-led multi-billion dollar infrastructure project.
In his seven-day visit to China in the backdrop of India's unofficial economic embargo against Nepal back in April, 2016, Prime Minister Oli had signed 10 different bilateral agreements on free trade, transport connectivity including cross-country railway, financial cooperation, and transit facilities through China. But as Oli's government was ousted shortly after his China visit, all these agreements were thrown in the backburner after the successive governments led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Sher Bahadur Deuba did not show any interest.
Prime minister's aides say the focus of this visit will be to bring the past agreements into implementation. Although no specific details have been made public, MoFA in its statement said the two countries will sign some agreements and memorandums of understanding during the visit.
Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, who visited Beijing twice recently, has been coordinating with the Nepali embassy in Beijing to finalize potential deals with China during the visit of the prime minister. As preparations are underway to sign a number of agreements, Prime Minister Oli will be accompanied by four key cabinet ministers to China.
According to MoFA, the entourage of the prime minister will include Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa “Badal”, Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation Minister Barsha Man Pun, Minister for Physical Infrastructures and Transport Raghubir Mahaseth. Prime Minister's Chief Adviser Bishnu Rimal, members of parliament, high ranking government officials and representatives of private sectors and media persons are among the members of the entourage.
Prime Minister Oli, who is visiting Beijing at the invitation of Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang, is scheduled to hold delegation level bilateral talks with his Chinese counterpart and also call on senior Chinese leaders. Besides various other engagements, Prime Minister Oli on his way home is also scheduled to visit Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet Autonomous Region of China and hold meetings with provincial leaders.