- China’s Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi is trying to save Oli’s government
By Jai Kumar Verma
New Delhi. 12 July 2020. Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi is currently extremely busy trying to save Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s government in Kathmandu. She is meeting Nepalese leaders of diverse factions of Communist Party of Nepal, to prevent Oli’s government from toppling.
K.P. Sharma Oli first served as Prime Minster from 11 October 2015 to 3 August 2016 and then again from 15 February 2018, after Communist Party of Nepal (UML) emerged as the largest party in the elections and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) agreed to support Oli’s candidature. Oli has the unstinting support of Ministry of State Security (MSS) the powerful intelligence agency of People’s Republic of China. MSS which is one of the most secretive intelligence organisation in the world handles both counterintelligence as well as foreign intelligence. MSS has cultivated long-term assets in different factions of Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) and at other strategic places.
Hou Yanqi met former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ recently at his residence. Dahal was twice prime minister of Nepal and is an important leader of Nepal Communist Party. He has challenged Oli’s leadership. When she reached his residence Ghanshyam Bhusal Agriculture Minister and Yogesh Bhattarai Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation were present however, she waited and after their departure she had “one-on-one” meeting with Prachanda for about 50 minutes. In the meeting both discussed how to resolve the present crisis and maintain the unity of the party.
She had closed door, one-on-one meetings with several top leaders of Nepal including President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, Prime Minister Oli, former prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and other important CPN leaders. Nepal Foreign Ministry officials complained that Chinese ambassador is breaking the diplomatic protocol. According to protocol a foreign ministry official must be present while ambassador of a foreign country is meeting the President. Madhav Kumar Nepal also mentioned that the non-stop meetings of Chinese ambassador with various Nepalese leadership indicates that China is interfering in the internal matter of the country.
Prachanda and others are pressing for Oli’s resignation from prime ministership as well as from the party’s Chairmanship. Oli has threatened to split the party, but Hou knows in case party is divided Oli will lose majority and he will not able to continue as prime minister. China wants to retain Oli as he is totally anti-India and follows the dictates of China. In Oli’s first stint as prime minister the relations between India and Nepal became all-time low. Oli won the latest elections on anti-India rhetoric.
In May 2020 when the world was in a lockdown, Ambassador Hou met several party leaders and other bigwigs and was able to retain the unity in CPN and saved Oli. Prachanda and Oli also had six rounds of talks, but they could not reach on any agreement. Meanwhile Oli also spread rumours amidst the ministers that Prachanda is trying to impeach the President Bidya Devi Bhandari and conveniently mentioned this to President Bhandari, so that her followers support him against Prachanda. Oli realising that things are getting tough for him approached the Nepali Congress but failed. He also met Chief of Army Staff of Nepal Army understanding that only Chinese assistance is not enough.
The crucial meeting of the Nepal Communist Party’s 45 member Standing Committee is getting postponed repeatedly and Oli knows that he lost the majority. Oli to save himself decided to blame India for the trouble in Nepal which also helped Beijing.
India and Nepal share a 1,800 km long open border and the major portion of the border is demarcated however there is dispute on some segments of the border. Nevertheless, a vital controversy emerged when Rajnath Singh Defence Minister of India inaugurated a 80 km- long strategically important road which links Dharchula in India via Lipulekh pass to the Kailash- Mansarovar area in the Tibet plateau region. The Lipulekh pass is near Nepal but is not in Nepal. The road is also used by Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims to reach Mount Kailash.
Nepal government immediately protested and mentioned that the road passes from Nepalese territory and it was built without diplomatic negotiations. Oli government also passed a Constitution Amendment Bill which included Indian territories Limpiadhura, Lipulek and Kalapani in Nepal. Oli in collaboration with MSS organised widespread public protests against India and unveiled a new map in May 2020 which included Indian territories of Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limliyadhura. The map was approved by parliament and also, by president in June 2020.
The Government of Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli is passing from the most difficult internal political crisis, hence he grabbed the opportunity and diverted the attention of masses from anti-government protests to anti-India demonstrations. Oli mustered public opinion and Nepal immediately deployed police force in the region, summoned Indian Ambassador in Kathmandu and brought constitutional amendment. India simply mentioned to resolve the issue through diplomatic negotiations but after the COVID-19 crisis is over. The territory claimed by Nepal is under Indian occupation from 60 years or more and the construction of road took few years, but Kathmandu never objected it hence the statement of India’s Chief of Army Staff that Nepal brought this issue “at the behest” of a third party appears to be true. In 2015 China recognised India’s sovereignty in the area but at this time it instigated Nepal to protest against India.
Prime Minister Oli is close to Beijing and Chinese influence in Nepal has increased during his tenure. In past when he was in trouble and about to be ousted from Prime Ministership, Chinese intelligence agency Ministry of State Security (MSS) came to his rescue and called a meeting of various factions of Communist Party of Nepal and pressed them to retain Oli as Prime Minister.
The present road existed before and was used by the pilgrims and local residents of the area and Nepal never objected hence India never expected that Nepal will object so vehemently. India converted the unmetaled track into a strategic road through which Indian forces can reach to Tibet plateau at the earliest, which was not liked by China hence it instigated Nepal to raise the issue so forcefully. Not only this India released the political map in November 2019 after defanging of Article 370 and partitioning J&K in two union territories. It was also against Chinese interest hence Prime Minister Oli raised the issue on Chinese bidding.
Oli is continuing with anti-India measures and it stopped transmission of all Indian private channels except Doordarshan. Oli government claimed that private channels are criticising Oli government. Oli is so indebted to China that when Chinese forces captured some Nepalese villages his government had not objected. As China’s influence is increasing in Nepal it is trying to mitigate India’s influence in the country. Nepali leaders also play China card to have better deal and attention of India.
Both India and Nepal should chalk out a detailed plan so that the bilateral relations remain cordial and friendly. India should stop thinking about the right of first refusal and should not consider Nepal as its satellite as the latter has adopted the policy of diversification so that its dependence on India reduces. China is increasing its influence through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) hence India must change its mindset towards Nepal. India should try to analyse and if feasible to accept the report submitted by the Eminent Persons Group which was prepared by the persons of both the countries and submitted in 2018.
Both Modi and Oli interacted several times and India also stressed on interdependence and connectivity. Several important projects including inland waterway navigation, cross border pipeline for petroleum products, rail and road links were initiated. India is observing silence on the present crisis as Oli will try to befuddle India’s initiative to generate more anti-India feelings. Oli knows that Nepal can never force India to surrender the territories claimed by Nepal hence raising anti-India issue has become counter-productive.
Nepal is sandwiched between two Asian superpowers hence it must be careful and should try to resolve the disputes through diplomatic channels. It should also consider that being a landlocked country it has to depend on India for several items. It will be difficult for China to become India’s substitute because of geographical compulsions hence Oli government should not try to earn political capital by arousing anti-India sentiments. Oli should also remember that only MSS will not able to save his government all the time and he must maintain cordial relations with both India and China.
Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and a retired senior intelligence officer. He is also member of United Services Institute of India and Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The views in the article are solely the author’s. He can be contacted at [email protected]