Chinese President Xi Jinping with Nepal President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, Prime Minister K.P.S. Oli (second from left) | Photo: @MofaNepal | Twitter
Chinese President Xi Jinping with Nepal President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, Prime Minister K.P.S. Oli (second from left) | Photo: @MofaNepal | Twitter
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Chinese President Xi Jinping literally put the famous Chinese proverb into action, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”, when he became the first Chinese head of state to visit Nepal last week after a gap of 23 years.

This was reason enough for India to sit up and take notice of how China’s long-standing plan of ‘encircling India’ is coming to fruition slowly and surely under President Xi.

But in its zeal to have an “informal” dialogue with Beijing, the outcome of which has been so far nothing, New Delhi lost an opportune moment to apprise Xi Jinping of its concerns on the growing Chinese influence in India’s immediate neighbourhood.

In a span of seven days, the Chinese president had formal dialogues with two of India’s immediate neighbours – Pakistan and Nepal – signing agreements and communique. In contrast, Xi Jinping held just an informal dialogue with Narendra Modi, which too was shrouded in secrecy.


Also read: Loss of friend Nepal & restive Kashmir, Modi’s plate is full as he meets China’s Xi Jinping


Bid to end India’s overarching influence

The biggest takeaway from Xi’s visit to Nepal, which India has tried to downplay, is China’s assertion that it will safeguard the Himalayan nation’s “independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity” and that Nepal should choose its social system and development “independently”.

This was a clear hint by the Chinese side at India’s growing interference in Nepal’s sovereign matters, something that Nepal has also firmly stated, especially under Prime Minister K.P.S. Oli. Nepal has made it clear that it wants to free itself from India’s overarching influence in its domestic matters. However, there are still some challenges in the China-Nepal relationship, like the delay in signing the extradition treaty that has reportedly upset Xi.

Nepal, nevertheless, continues to depend on India economically. India accounts for nearly two-thirds of Nepal’s trade and is the sole supplier of fuel. But this scenario is rapidly changing.

Border blockade a foreign policy disaster

If not anything, Xi’s visit was Beijing’s answer to the 2015 border blockade for which Nepal blamed India. Although India denies Nepal government’s accusations that the border blockade was planned by New Delhi, it is a fact that the Modi government was upset with Nepal’s then-newly promulgated constitution and had even suggested that changes be made to it so as to satisfy the Madhesis and Janjatis.

The way India handled the 2015 border blockade was probably the Modi government’s biggest foreign policy disaster in its first tenure. During the unprecedented blockade, shipments of fuel, food, medicines and other essential items from India to Nepal were stopped.

The border blockade also happened at a time when Nepal was just getting back on its feet after a devastating earthquake and needed India’s support more than ever.

Relationship between India and Nepal has always been special. Both share a working border and people from both countries travel for work and tourism, seamlessly.

However, after a prolonged Maoist revolution and overthrowing  of the monarchy, when Nepal finally rolled out its own constitution in September 2015, New Delhi was anything but happy.


Also read: India must rethink strategies on national security if it wants to join ranks with US, China


Nepal boxed in a ‘Neighbourhood First’ corner

The fight between India and China over Nepal is not new but when the Modi government came to power, it announced that ‘Neighbourhood First’ will be the cornerstone of India’s foreign policy. PM Narendra Modi even made a state visit to Nepal in August 2014 and gave a speech at the country’s Constituent Assembly. “My visit is focused on development and a new beginning between the two countries,” Modi had said.

In 2018, when Modi went for his third bilateral visit to Nepal, the objective, not surprisingly, remained the same. It was all about bringing substance and seriousness to the relationship. It was all about words and there was no visible signalling from Nepal that it would consider India’s sensitivities.

In fact, the big jolt for India came when Nepal joined China’s mega infrastructure plan, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), even as New Delhi dragged its feet on the regional connectivity project BBIN (Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal) Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) after Thimpu rejected it.

A landlocked nation, Nepal was under considerable pressure from India to not join the BRI. But contrarily, Nepal was never given the leeway by India to stand on its own feet even as New Delhi continued to harvest its influence in Nepal’s internal socio-political theatre.

China is now doing all that. It is building roads and ports in Nepal and has given the country access to its seaports in Tianjin, Shenzhen, Lianyungang and Zhanjiang, as well as dry ports in Lanzhou, Lhasa and Xigatse, under a trade and transit agreement.

Very soon, Kathmandu will be connected to the Chinese border in the north while a separate rail link will bring Nepal’s capital and Tibet much closer.

In 2011, China had announced a $3 billion project to transform Lumbini, Gautam Buddha’s birthplace, into a major pilgrimage and tourist centre in Nepal. It seems, so far, a stupa has been built while several other projects to develop Lumbini are underway.

Nepal is also upset with India over its lack of enthusiasm to move on regional initiatives like the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

Growing China-Nepal defence ties

Nepal is increasingly looking at China for greater defence cooperation. In June this year, Nepal’s Army chief Purna Chandra Thapa visited China where he reiterated Kathmandu’s adherence to the “one China” policy.

Strategically, India is losing the ground on Nepal and ceding the space to China. It has not been able to complete the projects in Nepal on time, neither has it been able to enhance its security and defence relationship with the neighbour. New Delhi knows that a stable Nepal is in India’s interest, given the porous border the two countries share.


Also read: Foreign aid to Nepal & Maldives gets big boost as Modi govt puts ‘Neighbourhood First’


 

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10 Comments Share Your Views

10 COMMENTS

  1. Naynima should clarify how every Chinese attempt to improve trade and investment with Nepal can be considered anti India. Nepal is not a colony of India but an independent country though with strong historical, cultural and economic linkages with us. We do not expect it behave in any anti India manner and jeopardize our national interest. If indeed this were not so, it would not be long before it is swirled into domestic conflicts and separatist movements. Hopefully, Nepalese leadership will have a sense of balance.
    It is a fact that India cannot match China in give aways and to that extent, China will always be attractive for these countries in our neighborhood. We should not mind so long as red lines are not crossed. Otherwise, Nepal can import all the oil it needs from China and stop using Kolkata port. Of course, very soon Nepalese will also understand the real cost of Chinese friendship when the interest and principle payment will be due in the course of time!!

  2. With that logic there are only alarm bells for CHINA. Right from Japan , South Korea to Vietnam and Indonesia all have very close ties with India. India has also signed a deal to export the prestigious BRAHMOS to Vietnam, so did this undermined Chinese interests in South China Sea? NOO , it didnt when INDIA speaks of Bilateral-ism it practice that. Nepal is a sovereign country it has its own interests with china. India should watch is closely but should not get insecure. Nepal has a communist govt i power too , hence it makes chinese embrace more natural for Nepal.
    What India should do is another topic BUT for the first step it should not get insecure and provide Nepal room to have relations with China. India must watch this ties closely but should not get hostile to it. This will provide a more active engagement with Nepal to sort our issues.
    Mr Modi has been very active in engaging with neighbor, calling his policy a failure is a complete misjudgment. Just look at Maldives, bangladesh , Mauritius , srilanka and many other .

  3. We need not see China’s increasing presence, mainly economic, in South Asia as a geopolitical threat. Given the size of its economy, foreign trade and execution capabilities in infrastructure, after ASEAN, South Asia is another promising region for it to expand its footprint. Each small neighbour now has an alternative. Perhaps PM I K Gujral, wise man that he was foresaw this when he suggested a magnanimous approach to the neighbourhood. Someone writing the Report Card of our policy towards Nepal would ink in, Could do better.

  4. Is it bad news only for Modi’s policy or India’s policy? Stop justifying each event in and around India to showcase bad news against Modi.

  5. The situation because of our govt sleeping in 2006 and allowing communist to seize power there. I am surprised why is writer blaming here and there, she should blame the communist ideology and cong support she also follows.

    • Saara dosh toh Angrezon ka hai. They should have annexed Nepal and it would then have been one of our larger states. Vaise aap WhatsApp University ke student hain ya faculty par ?

      • The concern of Modi government in Nepal was the Hindu Nation and Fast Track thing. (it is a fact that the Modi government was upset with Nepal’s then-newly promulgated constitution and had even suggested that changes be made to it so as to satisfy the Madhesis and Janjatis.)This line is totally twisted. Modi government was never in the favor of Madeshi and Janjati. Their concerns in our promulgate constitution were Nepal should be Hindu nation and India took Fast track project already and can’t finish on time. However, Nepal Government took decision to built it by themselves.

      • “They should have annexed Nepal and it would then have been one of our larger states.”
        What kind of half assed comment is this?? Did u know that british could never conquer nepal because our brave armies kick them out of our soil? Read some history dude.

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