Oli government’s diplomatic failure during pandemic: Relations with China fading, credibility issue with other international community

Abiral Gautam

  • Read Time 4 min.

Kathmandu: On March 23, 2020, Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi tweeted both in English and Nepali: “We are praying for Nepal and trying our best to coordinate some medical materials to help our Nepali friends. You will never be alone!”

This reassurance from China was when China itself was fighting the deadly first wave and many of its provinces were under strict lockdown to ward off rapid spread of the virus. Nepali people applauded the ambassador and her good gesture because it came in such context.

A year later, Nepal is ravaged by a more deadly second wave while China has recovered, emerged stronger and is in a position to supply vaccines and equipment to the countries around the world, which it has been doing.  Nepal, it seems, is not its priority.

Nepal’s health system has literally collapsed—people are dying because they do not get oxygen, beds and medical care in hospitals. At this time of humanitarian crisis, medical equipment and other required things could be exported from China.

On Saturday, China promised support of medical materials to help Nepali people. But the promised assistance is little compared to the crisis Nepal is facing at the moment.

Analysts and experts in Kathmandu describe the situation as ‘diplomatic failure and immaturity’ of K P Oli government.

The government is not proactive in approaching China when the relationship should have been translated into action on behalf of Nepali people who are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, said Leela Mani Paudyal, former Nepal’s ambassador to China.

Diplomatic failure during pandemic

Government to government negotiation could go in a much effective way in this critical time of humanitarian crisis. Nepal government, it appears, has not started any sincere effort to that end, said Paudyal. “Many other countries are currently going through the crisis while China has already controlled the Covid-19 spread and also producing and supplying vaccine to the outside world. China can be a reliable source for vaccines,” he said.

Once thought of as being close to China, K P Oli government now does not appear to be actively working in soliciting support from China to control Covid-19 rampage in Nepal. Why?

The foreign relation is meaningless when it cannot be translated in favor of people when people are in the need of support, Paudyal said. He sees the government’s reluctance to have an open and transparent dialogue with China as a major problem to secure assistance from China. What is holding Nepal back from ensuring support from China, he questioned. “The government should take support from all countries to ensure the safety of its citizens but the government has not been able to do so,” he said.

“China is one of the largest manufacturers of health equipment. The government should have put sincere efforts to ensure supply of essential medical equipment when citizens are dying out of basic treatment,” said Dr. Manoj Man Shrestha, first vice president of Arniko Society, an alumni association of scholars and experts graduated from China, adding that even India is taking support from China at the time of crisis.

Scholars say when leaders use the relationship with foreign countries just to remain in power, the result will be like this. Ideally, the relationship with one particular leader or a party should not be reflective of the diplomatic relationship between two countries, especially at the time of crisis, shared Mukti Marasini, a PhD researcher at Hebei Agricultural University, China.

Was Oli playing ‘China card’?

K P Oli was instrumental in deepening Nepal’s engagement with China. But many believe his relationship with China has deteriorated in recent months.

He signed a Trade and Transit Treaty with China in 2016 during his official visit to Beijing. At the time of the 2017 election, Prime Minister Oli created his image as anti-Indian and portrayed himself as a leader who could stand against the ‘blockade’ imposed by India. Oli stated that he will bring railways from China to Nepal. His main political agenda for the elections at the local, provincial and federal levels was railways from China and road to prosperity.

What seemed like a China-tilt of Oli was actually appreciated by the general public who went through extreme hardships during the blockade at that time.

There was a time when the ministers of this government including the PM himself frequently talked about BRI, railway etc. But Oli’s ‘pro-China’ rhetoric has noticeably gone down in recent times.  

The support Nepali people get at this hour will shape the future of the people-to-people relationship between Nepal and China.

There is no active lobbying from the government to reach out to China at this hour. ‘PM’s goal is to remain in power by hook or crook. He doesn’t care how people are suffering. Otherwise, he would have initiated a formal and meaningful negotiation with China for humanitarian assistance, Marasini said.

Time for reckoning

Foreign policy should not be used for the benefit of one party or a leader, said political analyst Geja Sharma Wagle, adding that there was immaturity from both sides in the past. K P Oli misused foreign relations for his favor while the Chinese side developed the relation in such a way that it looked more like China-Nepal Communist Party (NCP) relation than a China-Nepal relationship, he argued.

“Oli government doesn’t have diplomatic credibility, therefore, even China didn’t reciprocate despite Oli’s public appeal for humanitarian assistance,” Wagle further added.

The support Nepali people get at this hour will shape the future of the people-to-people relationship between Nepal and China.

PM Oli has failed to reach out to China diplomatically, Marasini said, adding that a person’s diplomatic failure should not determine the relations between the two countries.  China, being an emerging economy and manufacturing hub, should be with Nepali people at this time of humanitarian crisis Nepalis are in, he added. “But, the government should seriously revisit its failure once the pandemic is over”.

 “In fact, Nepal is paying the high price of myopic and partisan diplomacy of the communist government that has seriously jeopardized the national interest of Nepal,” Wagle shared his views, “The communist government could not maintain a good relationship with China, what else can we expect from this government?”

Despite the Prime Minister’s public appeal to the international community for humanitarian assistance to control the Covid-19 pandemic, none of them has reciprocated so far, which is really disappointing and worrisome for Nepal, he told Nepal Live Today.

This is the utter diplomatic failure of Oli because of his deviation from Nepal’s centuries-old guiding principles of maintaining a diplomatic balance between emerging global power and our immediate neighbor, Wagle concluded.