Chinese Foreign Minister’s Nepal visit: What should Nepal say to China?

Political leaders Nepal Live Today talked to stressed on reassuring the northern neighbor about addressing its security sensitivities and seeking development assistance.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Photo: Xinhua

NL Today

  • Read Time 8 min.

Kathmandu: Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councilor Wang Yi is arriving in Kathmandu on Friday on a three-day visit. Wang is scheduled to pay a courtesy call on President Bidya Devi Bhandari and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. He is also expected to hold bilateral talks with his Nepali counterpart Narayan Khadka, apart from meeting former Prime Minister and Chairman of CPN-UML KP Sharma Oli, and former Prime Minister and Chairman of CPN (Maoist Center) Pushpa Kamal Dahal. 

The visit has been keenly watched in Kathmandu and beyond as it comes on the heels of parliamentary ratification of Millennium Challenge Corporation’s $500 million Nepal Compact, about which China expressed its reservations openly.

On the other hand, the projects to be initiated under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) framework agreement with China have not taken off. Many of the agreements signed between the two countries from 2016 to 2019 remain unimplemented.

Wang Yi’s Kathmandu trip comes in the wake of MCC Compact ratification and the accusation that Sher Bahadur Deuba government is turning a cold shoulder to Beijing. 

Meanwhile, the current government led by Nepali Congress is often accused of giving no due importance to China. In September, 2021, it picked an ‘unverified’ claim of encroachment of Nepali territories by China and formed a committee to study the matter, the report of which has been kept secret. The Chinese appear to be miffed by this move as well.

In this context, what should the government of Nepal communicate with China during the visit of the Chinese foreign minister? Nepal Live Today approached political leaders of Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, and CPN (Maoist Center). 

Gururaj Ghimire, leader Nepali Congress

It was an economic compulsion for Nepal to accept the MCC grant. China knows it very well but we still need to say this to the Chinese foreign minister.

Nepal-China relations go back to ancient times.  We need to bear this in mind when we talk about relations with China. China carefully watches Nepal’s engagement with the West, particularly the US and it is natural too for the US and China are two rival superpowers.  As such, the Chinese would probably be happy if the MCC Compact was not ratified. This can be understood from their official statements. But our economic realities are different. We largely depend for our development on grants and assistance from foreign countries.  So it was an economic compulsion for Nepal to accept the MCC grant. I think China knows it very well but I think we still need to say this to the Chinese foreign minister.

We have always stood for One-China and we will always stand for One-China. We need to say that we will never allow any anti-China activities to happen in Nepal. 

After the MCC ratification, China wants to be assured that it will, in no way, change Nepal’s China policy. Nepal needs to reassure China in this regard. There is a tendency among Nepali political leaders not to communicate Nepal’s position clearly. This tendency is wrong. We need to present our position clearly.  We need to say that we need assistance and grants from India, China and the US. We should say that China can offer grants similar to MCC grants and Nepal will be more than happy to receive them. Then we have to say that we will never engage in such activities which might harm China’s security concerns, that we have taken development assistance from the US but we are not a part of the anti-China alliance. 

Before that, our leadership should be able to figure out what concerns the Chinese side is going to communicate with us during the visit.

Some elements may have wanted to establish that Nepal also has a border issue with China.  If the government’s move to form the study committee was guided by that thought, we should not have been guided by that thought. But if we have a definite proof of border encroachment from the Chinese side, we need to talk to the Chinese side with proof and the Chinese side should address it.  

Nepal is not opposed to BRI but Nepal cannot afford to take high-interest loans to implement the BRI projects.  We built Pokhara International Airport under Chinese loan and it has come to be too costly for Nepal. We cannot take Chinese loans at a high interest rate. Nepal’s priority is grant,  if not grant low-interest loan, or the interest rate in which Nepal takes loan from other bilateral or multilateral donors or agencies.

Mahendra Bahadur Pandey, Former Foreign Minister, former ambassador of Nepal to China, UML leader

The current government has not paid much attention towards maintaining good relations with China. Instead, it looks bent on creating troubles in relations with China.  

Mahendra Bahdur Pandey

We always need to keep it in mind that China is our trusted and reliable neighbor. And it is not just a neighbor, it is a global superpower.  We always need to take care of the sensitivities of China. China also needs to keep in mind Nepal’s sensitivities and welfare while dealing with Nepal. China has always stood by our side and offered us unconditional support when Nepal was in difficult situations.  It has proved with actions that it is a good friend of Nepal.

Nepal needs to follow on and implement the agreements signed between Nepal and China during Nepali PM and President’s visit to China and during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Nepal.  Nepali side has not done much toward realizing the BRI projects. We need to work on implementing it.  We need to initiate the process by ourselves.  

The current government has not paid much attention towards maintaining good relations with China. Instead, it, at times, looks bent on creating troubles in relations with China.  Nepal needs to clear all such doubts China may have. We need to tell them we are their trusted neighbor, which will never allow anything to harm Chinese interests. Nepal needs to discuss the BRI projects to implement them. Nepal needs to do serious homework before sitting for talks with the Chinese foreign minister.

Nepal needs to maintain good relations with China, India, the US and other Western countries. As a founder member of the non-aligned movement, we need to keep our non-aligned policy intact.  

The current government has committed two mistakes in relations to China. 

First, it has maintained an eerie silence regarding our real border issues with India. It has not yet taken any action about the incident of death of a Nepali citizen in Mahakali River even though the local government has asked the government to take action. It has not done anything about the Lipulekh, Limpiyadhura and Kalapani issue. Instead, it picked a non-existing border encroachment issue with China and accused China without any proof. This particular move seems to have been taken to irritate the northern neighbor and spoil our relations.

The second major mistake it made is about the MCC. It should have communicated with China that the MCC is in Nepal’s interests and it, in no way, harms the interests of China. The government of Nepal should have talked to the Chinese side to dispel their doubts before the Compact was ratified. 

Nepal-China border issues were resolved in 1961. Back then we formed some joint committees to address any border-related issues that might arise between the two countries. There is a formal understanding between the two countries that if some issues arise then the joint mechanisms will work together to resolve such issues. There is also an understanding that if needed a joint expert committee will settle the matter.  Even if there was any issue related to the border with China, we should have talked about it through bilateral mechanisms. But the government raised this issue unilaterally by completely bypassing the Foreign Ministry.  The Home Ministry formed a study committee. It came out with a report which it has kept secret. All this seems to have been done with the intention of putting the blame on China.  The intention seems to be to irritate China.  The government should come clean on all these matters while talking with the Chinese foreign minister.

Nepal should tell China that MCC is not part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy and that if ever it is used as a strategic or military tool Nepal will abrogate the Compact. Nepal must be able to say this. 

Uma Regmi, Minister Women, Children and Senior Citizens, Central Committee Member, Nepali Congress 

The government has not accused China of border encroachment.  If we have any concerns related to the matter, we need to communicate our concerns based on the truth and facts rather than rumors and allegations. 

This is the second-high-level visit to Nepal from the Chinese side after the visit of president Xi Jinping in October, 2019. Thus we need to give him the warmest welcome and provide the best hospitality.  We have to convey the message that we maintain equal relations with both the neighbors.  Nepali Congress will show cordial behavior to the visiting Chinese delegation.  We need to work to maintain and keep this cordial bilateral relation always cordial and warm.  We need to work for mutual wellbeing and mutual help.

Some people accuse the government of spoiling relations with China by forming a committee to study the border issue. I don’t agree. It is only a study committee.  The government has not accused China of border encroachment.  If we have any concerns related to the matter, we need to communicate our concerns based on the truth and facts rather than rumors and allegations. We need to treat our neighbors with equal respect and regard.  We need to take assistance from China, including under BRI.  Congress should be and is ready to discuss any matters with China in a very friendly manner. Nepal and China have had a deep cordial relation since the time of princes Bhrikuti. Our efforts should always be directed toward maintaining and further deepening this cordial relation. 

Yasoda Subedi Gurung, Lawmaker, CPN (Maoist Center)

Nepal needs to tell China that Nepal ratified the MCC Compact after the US clarified that it is not part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy.    

Many Nepali students who were studying in various universities in China had to return home after the onset of the Covid-19. Their studies have been badly affected.  This will have a direct bearing on their future. Thus Nepali side needs to talk to the Chinese foreign minister to help facilitate the process of Nepali students resuming their studies in Chinese universities.  

China is the second largest economy of the world and a much more developed country. Nepal needs to approach China for development assistance and grants especially in the field of transportation, energy and industries.  Most important thing for Nepal to communicate is about the MCC ratification. The Chinese side seems to believe MCC is part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy of the US. Nepal needs to tell China that Nepal ratified the MCC Compact only after the US clarified that it is not part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy.   We need to clearly say that Nepal accepted the MCC because it is a pure grant and it has nothing to do with the Indo-Pacific Strategy. 

We need to say that the moment MCC Compact is used as a tool to further the military strategy of the US, Nepal will reject it.  The 12-point Interpretive Declaration on the MCC Compact which was passed by the parliament has clearly mentioned that Nepal is ready to accept the MCC grant only if it is not any part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy. Nepal needs to communicate this message to the Chinese side clearly. We need to tell the Chinese that if the US does not accept the Interpretive Declaration, Nepal will not implement the MCC Compact.