China has sent a clear message to Nepal that it is keen to invest in the country but would like a secure environment for that. It has candidly prescribed some bilateral and internal arrangements. Chinese authorities recently told Nepal’s visiting Deputy Prime Minister Bamdev Gautam that a bilateral investment promotion and protection agreement (BIPPA) would encourage China to invest more, and with confidence, in Nepal.
Nepal had signed a BIPPA with India about two years ago. The least China wants is the same priority treatment from Nepal, where political instability and the prolonged transition have taken a heavy toll on development. In recent years, China has been more assertive with Nepal and has sometimes brazenly told Kathmandu that it is not happy about the presence of international activists fomenting trouble in Tibet. “They want to have an extradition treaty along with the BIPPA,” Gautam said on his return.
China is increasing its presence in Nepal, even as most Nepali citizens see very little chance of their current political leaders delivering a meaningful constitution by the January 22 deadline. Beijing is also worried that a campaign of 22 parties, led by Maoist chief Prachanda, for identity- and ethnicity-based federalism will have a direct bearing on Tibet. China has been repeatedly warning against such a federal state being endorsed during the constitution-writing process.
However, those involved in constitution-making have, till date, not discussed how the identity issue can be addressed without making it the basis of federating the state. The proponents of federalism fear that a fresh review of the issue may also reopen for debate two other crucial agendas — a republican and secular Nepal. But these issues are already being debated and a section of the Nepali Congress is set to launch a campaign for a “Hindu Nepal”.
Many political leaders, including Maoist ideologue and former PM Baburam Bhattarai, called on former king Gyanendra in hospital, where he was admitted after a heart attack. There is reliable information that representatives of other countries too have seen Gyanendra and shared their worries about Nepal’s fate. Gyanendra has displayed statesmanship, wished all parties success for the constitution-writing, while ignoring the humiliation he has been subjected to. Such conduct has made him arguably more popular than most political leaders today.
There are reports that Indian PM Narendra Modi was keen on meeting Gyanendra during his visit in August. But that might have sent a different message, since the Indian establishment treated him as persona non grata through the April 2006 transfer of power. But Modi seems to have grasped that India is being linked with the political chaos in Nepal. During the SAARC summit, Modi plans to visit to Janakpur (Sita’s birthplace), Lumbini (Buddha’s birthplace) and Jomsom, site of the Muktinath temple along the Tibet border. These visits are meant to convey the Indian establishment’s respect for Nepali religious sentiments. Modi’s visits outside Nepal’s capital will come at a time when Chinese visits are on the rise, with President Xi Jinping having already been extended an official invitation.
Leo Sang Jiang Cun, chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region, is due to visit Nepal this week — ahead of Tibet Air (a subsidiary of Air China) beginning its Nepal operations. Many more high-level visits are scheduled till Xi’s trip next year. China has the advantage of not being viewed as meddling in Nepal’s internal affairs, although it has of late been warning against ethnicity-based federalism. In fact, some of the key actors, including K.P. Oli, chairman of the CPN-UML in the coalition, now say Nepal can afford neither ethnicity-based provinces nor more than four provinces, something the Maoists will not agree to. This means a complete collapse of the ongoing constitution-making exercise and the possibility of Nepal and China reviewing their agenda. After all, both believe the lawlessness in Nepal will have an impact beyond its borders.