Is China manipulating Nepal?

Oli’s anti-India posture was seen to be at the behest of Beijing as India converted the unmetalled road into a strategic road through which the Indian Army and guns can reach the Tibet plateau early, a strategic development not to China's liking, writes Jai Kumar Verma

Jai Kumar Verma Aug 10, 2020
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The Ministry of State Security (MSS), the secretive and ruthless Chinese intelligence agency, is very active all over the world, especially in its neighbourhood. It has created front organisations and also posted its officers and staff in Chinese diplomatic missions. MSS, which mastered industrial espionage, collects information through open sources, interception of the messages, and through human intelligence. MSS, which has also learned the use of ‘sharp power’, is spreading confusion, involved in immense anti-India and pro-China propaganda in Nepal.
 
Recently, MSS is understood to have played a pivotal role in saving Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli’s government. Generally, the ambassador does not involve in the internal affairs of the host country. However, the present Chinese Ambassador to Nepal, Hou Yanqi, is known to have met several leaders of Nepal and convinced them not to oust Oli. It is the second tenure of Oli as prime minister; he was anti-India and pro-China in his first tenure from October 11, 2015, to August 3, 2016 as well. 

The second term of Oli commenced from February 15, 2018, but several leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN), including former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, alias Prachanda, are opposed to him and want to remove him. Prachanda is demanding Oli’s resignation from the prime minister’s post as well as from the post of party chairman. Oli, expectedly, has dug his foot in.    

Oli is close to the Chinese government. The opposition claimed that Ambassador Hou met Prachanda, President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, former prime ministers Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal and several others with the intention to persuade them to support Oli. Nepalese opposition leaders criticised her for breaking protocol and meddling in the internal affairs of their country. In May 2020, also Hou is said to have saved Oli's government by convincing numerous CPN leaders to come out in his favour.  

Prachanda and others are opposing Oli and the latter has already lost the majority in the 45- member Standing Committee of the CPN. She met the top leadership of CPN, and the meeting of the Standing Committee was repeatedly postponed. It is said that Oli as a strategy criticised and blamed India for working against his government. He also created an unnecessary controversy when the Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated a road that links Dharchula (India) via Lipulekh Pass to Kailash Manasarovar in Tibet. The road is used by Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims and it has strategic importance also.

The Oli government claimed that Limpiadhura, Lipulekh, and Kalapani are in Nepal, passed a Constitution Amendment Bill, published a new map in May 2020, organised anti-India demonstrations, summoned the Indian ambassador to lodge a protest, and also posted security personnel in the area. Oli is said to have done all these manifest anti-India actions to divert public attention. Oli also tried to obtain the support of the opposition Nepali Congress (NC) but NC leaders refused to help.

Anti-India posturing

Oli’s anti-India posture was seen to be at the behest of Beijing as India converted the unmetalled road into a strategic road through which the Indian Army and guns can reach the Tibet plateau quickly, a strategic development not to China's liking. Beijing was also unhappy as India revoked Article 370 that gave special constitutional status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the state into two Union territories - Jammu and Kashmir (with legislature) and Ladakh.

China was seen to have instigated Oli to raise the issue with India. Oli also tried to blame Prachanda and his supporters for opposing him at the behest of India. Oli made Mandarin compulsory in Nepalese schools. The CPN also had a virtual meeting with the Communist Party of China where both parties discussed how to manage the party and administer the country better.  

China’s "all-weather friend" Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan also spoke with Oli and supported his remarks against India. According to sources, Oli maybe even planning to split the party as more than half members out of the 45 member Standing Committee of the party are opposing Oli.

India should aim for pragmatic ties with Nepal 

India has also increased financial assistance to Nepal from Rs.375 crores in 2017-18 to 1,050 crores in the financial year 2019-20. Besides it, India also committed to constructing school buildings in Darchulla (Nepal), Dhanusha, and Kapilvastu. However, China has deep pockets and it will not be possible for India to compete with massive Chinese investments.

India should try to emphasise that China is an expansionist country whose ultimate aim is the occupation of Nepalese territory. Sri Lanka lost the Hambantota port. Pakistan lost Gwadar port and Balochi nationalist leaders fear that China intends to exploit the mineral resources of Balochistan, Gilgit, and Baltistan. Tajikistan had to give 1,000 km of land to China in the Pamir mountain range. 

India instead of laying too much store on a "special relationship" - bound by "roti-beti" (social and family ties) as Defence Ministser Rajnath Singh said - should build aim to build a more pragmatic relationship with Nepal.  

(The writer is a New Delhi-based strategic analyst and member of USI and IDSA. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at  jai_pushpa@hotmail.com)