China intensified its political and public diplomacy in September setting the stage for Xi Jinping’s visit to Nepal, scheduled for October 12 to 13. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit was followed by that of a delegation of the Chinese Communist Party which participated in a joint symposium with the Nepal Communist Party. Diplomatic events by China, combined with internal dynamics in Nepali politics, have generated debates and discussions in the Nepali media about Nepal-China relations, exposed differences and confusions in Nepal’s foreign policy and caused setbacks for US diplomacy. Although China’s strategy and approach regarding relation with Nepal is becoming coherent, how such relations will actually materialize or shape Nepal-China relations is not clear. Similarly, Nepal’s relation with China is also under duress given competing interests within the Nepali society and efforts by the US and India to limit China’s influence in Nepal. In such a situation, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Nepal will have significant implications.
During his three-day visit to Nepal in September, Foreign Minister Wang Yi met various leaders and dignitaries—including Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Prime Minister KP Oli, President Bidya Devi Bhandari, and Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali—conveying carefully curated messages. China confirms that Nepal is an integral component in its neighborhood policy as “China and Nepal have been connected by mountains and rivers and enjoy ever-lasting friendship.” The second identifiable element is that of China’s pledge to priorities the vision of “Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepal” This adage is supplemented by China’s desire to strongly support Nepal in “exploring a development path in line with its national conditions.”
China is portraying itself as a stronger proponent for Nepal’s social and political development. It has promised to jointly push forward the Belt and Road Initiative with a special mention of the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network in order to transform Nepal from a land-locked country to a land-linked country. However, there was no mention of the railway project, merely a commitment to expand connectivity which in its vagueness could mean only road connectivity or may even extend to a rail link. Wang Yi also outlined that the Chinese side is looking forward to working “jointly” with the Nepali government to deepen such ties. This means that Nepal must not participate in such talks with an expectation of being the sole beneficiary but must approach it as a cooperative project between the two countries.
On China’s security concerns in Nepal; the Chinese Foreign Ministry carefully marked its appreciation for Nepalese foreign policy which stands resolute in support of a One China Policy and its refusal to allow any anti-China activities on Nepali soil. Pushpa Kamal Dahal allegedly went as far as making a statement condoning the Hong Kong protests, dubbing the recent upheaval as “terrorism in the name of human rights.”
Beijing relayed another message through Wang Yi that Nepal and China are entering a new chapter in their diplomatic relations, a chapter that is being pushed by new historical conditions and will bring more cultural exchanges and partnerships. Prominent Chinese news agencies such as the Xinhua and the China Daily have also carried articles covering Wang’s visit to Nepal outline these five elements as China’s priority in Nepal. To conclude, these five elements showcased by Wang Yi’s visit to Nepal will serve as a compass to navigate Chinese foreign policy in Nepal. During Wang’s visit, three deals were signed—two infrastructure agreements and one on public diplomacy, under which China would be sending volunteer teachers to Nepal.
Xi Jinping Thought
On September 25, the ruling Nepal Communist Party and the Communist Party of China formalized their sisterly relations by signing a six-point agreement that promises high-level political exchange, people-to-people relations, study visits, ideological interactions and cooperation between the two parties. Head of the International Affairs Department of the Nepal Communist Party, Madhav Kumar Nepal, and Chief of International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China, Song Tao, signed the agreement in the presence of both PM K.P Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal. More than 200 leaders participated in the symposium.
Bishnu Rijal, in a social media post, highlighted the five major areas where agreements were signed. First, there was a promise to increase high-level visits between the two parties, second, there should be a continuance in ideological training from China to Nepali communist leaders. Third, there should be an extension in sharing communist ideology and experience and fourth, training should also percolate to lowest levels. Lastly, there should be increased discourse between the developmental models of the two countries as Nepal has much to learn from the Chinese model. Each of these points was supplemented by presentations by Chinese leaders.
During the symposium, the Chinese Communist Party explained the Xi Jinping Thought and held ideological discussions with the Nepal Communist Party members. NCP leaders praised China, its leadership, and its ideology. Prime Minister Oli in his speech as chief guest stated that “countries, after becoming powerful, tended to dominate other countries, China never did so.” This, in his opinion, makes China’s system better than the rest of the worlds.’ PM Oli, while eulogizing Xi Jinping Thought, however, said there were differences in the characteristics of communist parties of Nepal and the Chinese Communist Party. Pushpa Kamal Dahal too praised CPC’s ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ stating that through their ideology system the party had gained legitimacy and longevity in China. Most of the communist leaders have expressed their admiration for the Chinese political system and hail the dominant one party system.
NCP’s deputy chief of the party school, Bedu Ram Bhusal said the symposium was aimed at “renewing relations between the communist parties of the two countries” after the unification of the CPN-UML and CPN-MC into NCP. The symposium, however, generated public discussions about whether China was engaging in ideological indoctrination of “Xi Jinping Thought.” There were also internal differences in the Nepal Communist Party over Xi ideology.
Comments from the Chinese indicated that they were promoting Xi Xinping Thought as the basis of a new international order and the promotion of such thought in Nepal could weave its neighbor into that order. China appears to approach Nepal Communist Party in at least three ways: as a source of stability in Nepali politics, as a source of stability in Nepal’s relations with China, and as a vehicle for weaving Nepal into a global order based on the Chinese model. For example, during the political symposium, the Chinese politicians placed emphasis on adopting the Chinese party discipline and discussed how the communist party could be organized in a better way. A senior NCP official said that the Chinese want to maintain a sustained and friendly relationship with Nepal and are constantly trying to make sense of who would lead the NCP over the longer term. China expects the NCP to remain in a strong position at all the three levels of the government in the federal context.
Every year, China has been inviting 30 persons from the Nepal Communist Party, 15 from the former Maoists and 15 from the former UML. This year, they said they wanted to organize the event in Nepal, said a senior party official. So they asked for an invitation from Madhav Kumar Nepal, the head of the international affairs department, while the event was organized by the party school led by Ishwar Pokharel. Despite the program being hosted by NCP party school, the Chinese sought to appease Madhav Kumar Nepal.
The most significant concern was that China is attempting to export its political ideology to the NCP which would allow for it to fulfill out its economic and security interests with ease. Following widespread criticism about indoctrination, the Chinese ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi was forced to clarify the next day, saying China does not export its ideology to other countries. However, she said that “in-depth discussion about Xi Jinping Thought is helpful for the exploration of new developmental ideas for all countries, and for developing countries in particular.” At the same event hosted by China Study Center and the Chinese Embassy, Minister Ishwar Pokhrel said Xi Jinping Thought offered a basis for finding solutions to global affairs and was accepted internationally. Ambassador Hou Yangqi was present in the symposium, indicating an official relationship between the Chinese state and the Nepal Communist Party.
Inconsistencies in Nepal’s foreign policy and setbacks for the US
Multiple sources in the Nepal Communist Party said there’s confusion as well as differences in the party regarding foreign policy.
One foreign relations expert in the party recalled his personal experience with K P Oli, saying the NCP leader has been showing disdain to the idea of non-alignment as a foreign policy for the last 2-3 years. He said PM Oli once asked him, why he was still talking about non-alignment. Although the Nepal Communist Party still officially maintains a policy of non-alignment, such a policy may be under duress given the growing relationship with the Chinese Communist Party.
NCP general secretary Ishwar Pokhrel sought to use the event to bolster his position in the party by appearing close to the Chinese. He also sought to sell himself to the Chinese as the future of the party. Ghanashyam Bhusal, meanwhile, was largely ignored by all the groups in the party, he had no major presence during the symposium except for a paper he presented about China’s rise and its implications for communist ideology.
Talking to CESIF, Surendra Pandey outlined some reasons why the NCP is unlikely to adopt socialism with Chinese characteristics. The first is the supposed incompatibility between Maoism and the political-economic conditions of Nepal—it is no longer a semi-feudal state. While the former Maoists may be closer to Chinese ideology, the former UML has clearly discarded Maoism and are reluctant to accept it again. Second, while Maoism sought to get to power from revolution, the former UML has sought to get to power through multi-party electoral competition. The third is their current political culture. “NCP will not tilt towards China. We are too open,” says Surendra Pandey. “The symposium is an issue related solely to the party school and not to the party as a whole.”
In recent months, the US has been trying to intensify cooperative relations with Nepal and its security forces and has conducted a series of diplomatic initiatives to promote the neutrality of the Indo-Pacific Strategy as a policy. Party insiders say that the US, in recent months, has tried to court influential leaders like Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Bishnu Paudel. But while China has made inroads, US diplomacy has suffered several setbacks.
The Home Minister canceled the US National Guards exercise with the Armed Police Force. The Nepal Army objected to the defense force trying to partner with the armed police force in Nepal. It would constitute a major setback for US Department of Defense’s efforts to expand its influence in the Nepali security forces.
Nepal Army has adopted a policy of conducting foreign relations through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Now all foreign governments, intergovernmental agencies, and I/NGOs are required to go through the Foreign Ministry. This move has also made the US government unhappy as senior government officials and political appointees close to Oli have been showing reluctance to meet with the Americans. The Nepal Army’s policy is to continue bilateral engagements, but not become part of any multilateral arrangements or exercises, particularly after the bitter experience with BIMSTEC.
Within the ruling party, the recent debate over Nepal’s involvement in the Indo-Pacific Strategy has created deep polarization. Leaders close to Dahal protested the framework around MCC as being closely linked to the Indo-Pacific strategy while those close to Oli accuse the latter of being an obstruction against own party. Dev Gurung, the NCP’s Whip, suggested a fresh round of negotiations between the US and Nepal to clarify if this agreement would bring the added pressure of the Indo-Pacific Strategy. The US was not happy with Pampha Bhusal’s statement in the parliament that Nepal should cancel all exercises with the US. She is embittered because the US rejected her a visa.
Then on September 12, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China issued a press statement regarding Minister Wang Yi’s exchanges with NCP co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal on September 10. The press statement reported Dahal as saying that “Nepal firmly adheres to the policy of non-alignment, disagrees with the so-called Indo-Pacific Strategy, and opposes any attempt to contain or thwart China’s development.” Senior party official associated with the foreign affairs department believes that China deliberately exposed Dahal’s personal conversations with the Chinese Prime Minister Wang Yi. “Dahal did not expect the Chinese to expose his conversation and he was later complaining in a meeting,” a senior party official present at the meeting said. US Embassy Spokesperson Andie De Arment said, “If true, it is bewildering that we now learn about Nepal’s positions from statements issued from Beijing.” Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s spokesperson clarified that Dahal was misquoted and that he had only told Yi that Nepal disapproved of any initiative targeted at China. Nepal will not be part of any strategy that targets China or any other country as it would violate its non-interference clause under non-alignment.
Clinton Brown, the spokesperson at the US embassy clarified that there has been a misunderstanding that the Indo-Pacific is similar to a military alliance. Emphasizing that US intentions in Nepal have been selfless and development oriented, Brown stated that the US intents were clear on free and independent Indo-Pacific. Despite persistent efforts by the US to portray Indo-Pacific Strategy as a policy and not a security strategy, stakeholders in Nepal have refused to accept the American interpretation. They say they know the rationale behind the Indo-Pacific strategy and what it entails. The army, however, says it has not faced any direct pressure from China.
Nepal’s inability to deal with neutrality and diplomatic dexterity may have consequences on key agreements and projects that are ongoing including the Millennium Challenge Cooperation. MCC, a grant by the US is a multi-billion dollar investment project in the infrastructure sectors of Nepal. The endorsement of the agreement would have pushed the 400-KV Butwal-Gorakhpur Electricity Transmission Line project ahead. Creating such hurdles in the path of development works would be a deterrence to Nepal’s aspiration of prosperity.
Malaysia Migration to Resume
Migration to Malaysia that was on hold since 2018 is likely to resume as Nepal and Malaysia have agreed to do so at the end of a two-day meeting in Kuala Lumpur on September 12. Nepal had halted issuing work permits to Nepalis going to work in Malaysia since May 2018 objecting to high fees charged by Malaysian sub-contractor for visa processing and cheating poor Nepali workers.
As per the agreement, 86 additional Nepali health centers will be allowed to conduct the pre-departure health check compared to only one center in the past. Nepal has also withdrawn its demand for not using any subcontractors in the visa process.
In November 2013, Malaysia had outsourced visa processing to VLN Nepal, a subcontractor, and hiked the visa fees. The embassy later subcontracted elements of the visa process to three more companies, to collect biometrics, stamp holograms, and carry out checks on applicants. All this raised the fee Nepali workers had to pay to Rs 18,480. Nepal had adopted a ‘free visa, free ticket’ policy in 2015 and had shifted this burden to the employers.
Violence, Rule of Law, and Inclusion
Nepal celebrated the Constitution Day on September 20. The constitution of Nepal is considered as the most progressive one. This constitution has guaranteed the rights of women as a fundamental right. The fundamental rights are the human rights of all citizens which are recognized by the Supreme Court as requiring protection from the government encroachment.
The trafficking of women for the sex trade and entertainment industry has become major threat for decades. A new phenomenon has emerged in recent years. Earlier, women and girls were sold to India for the sex trade, but due to the result of now-defunct one-child policy in China, Nepali women and girls are now being trafficked as brides to China.
Likewise, it came to light that Indian girls are also being trafficked to Nepal for commercial sex. On this backdrop, the government will have to redefine the way it deals with trafficking.
A report entitled ‘Human Rights of Rape Victims and Police Accountability to their Access to Justice ‘of the National Human Rights Commission revealed that a total of 1,313 rape cases were filed in the first seven months of fiscal 2018-19. Minors are reported to be more vulnerable to rape. The government has failed to identify the perpetrator/s of rape and murder of the infamous Nirmala Pant case. The culprits are getting political protection. The government has done nothing much, rather than being ritualistic in forming several committees to investigate the case. Nirmala still waits for justice
In another incident of demonstration rule of law situation of the country, Naresh Thapa, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa’s brother, was arrested for his alleged ties to a criminal group. Thapa was arrested after the preliminary police investigation linking him to an extortion racket. Naresh, who is a retired Indian Army, has been released on bail.
And again, despite the target set, much action remains undone as cases of maternal mortality is on the rise. Women from the rural areas of Sudur Paschim and Karnali provinces have been facing higher risk due to the geographical remoteness and poverty. The constitution has ensured the right to reproductive health in its fundamental rights. Lack of affordable and accessible health care services and awareness are pushing more and more women of remote areas to lose their lives from complications during pregnancy and childbirth. The government seems to be more focused on infrastructure development rather than human security in those regions. The government is yet to acknowledge that the enhancement of human living standards is also a key indicator of prosperity.
As an exemplification that women are not equal to men, the ongoing citizenship debate is evidence of systemic and structural barriers in ensuring equal civil rights to women. The unequal treatment between Nepali men and women marrying foreign spouses treated Nepali women as second class citizens limiting their rights. The other incidents like acid attack, cyber-crimes, and sexual harassment in various forms are comparatively new avenues for exploitation of rights of women.
Hence, there are several forms of violation of the rights of women, which disrespect the core principle of the constitution, which is to live a life with dignity, freedom, and equality.
The world health organization defines health as mental, social, and emotional well-being. However, Nepal is yet to mainstream mental health on holistic health promotion. As per the report of Nepal Police, as many as 5,785 people committed suicide in the fiscal year 2018/19. The report indicates that the suicides were committed over family disputes, poverty, misuse of social media, and relationship breakups. Poverty and unemployment are also a few of the major causes of depression which leads to suicide. Many youths are becoming prey to mental health problems due to a lack of employment opportunities within the country and are seeking employment abroad. All the socio-economic, cultural, and political aspects contribute to mental health problems. However, people usually neglect mental health conditions as it is associated with stigma. Availability and accessibility of mental health services are also one of the major challenges to overcome for Nepal.
Since there was not so much research done on the relationship between suicide and mental disorders in Nepal, it is difficult to find out the effective and appropriate intervention. Hence, by conducting an effective study on suicide and mental health, appropriate measures should be taken to reduce it.
Since August 17, over 5,000 people have been diagnosed with dengue, out of which seven people have lost their lives. Health Minister Upendra Yadav has been criticized for frequent traveling to foreign countries when the country was facing a national emergency. Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Paudel accused the government of doing nothing to combat the dengue outbreak.
Although dengue becomes an epidemic, the government didn’t come up with long-term and short-term plans. Thousands of people suffered from the disease, the hospitals were overcrowded by patients, but the government didn’t pay much attention to the health and well being of people. The Health Minister’s light statement that the mortality rate was not high and his frequent foreign visit during the health crisis in the country show the high negligence of the government towards citizens’ health. It is not the first time Nepal faced the dengue outbreak. Every year, the range and number of infected people are increasing, but lack of preparedness and effective measures to deal with it has increased the number of infected people this year.
There are three tiers of government; people have chosen their representative
for the enhancement of their well beings. However, the health needs of the
people couldn’t be the priorities of any government. The government failed to
implement effective plans to control the disease and still it couldn’t be
controlled completely. The federal government should have coordinated with the
provincial and local authorities to tackle the diseases.