Steve Jobs, referring to his life experiences, said during his June 12, 2005 Convocation address at Stanford University, “Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” The observation of Steve Jobs is meaningful in relation to Chinese PM Wen Jiabao scheduled Nepal visit (December 20-22, 2011), which was postponed abruptly on December13, 2011.
The visit could take place only on January 13, 2012 after Home Minister Bijaya Kumar Gachchadar made a five-day visit of his own to China, perhaps to assure the Chinese of security measures for the impending visit of the Chinese premier.
En route to three Gulf countries, PM Wen made a four-and-a-half hour stopover in Kathmandu to sign eight agreements with Nepal, all very generous to Nepal financially. On the day of his visit, more than 7,000 security personnel were deployed and 569 arrests made to avoid any unpleasant event. Interestingly, the earlier postponement of the visit had created embarrassing situations for both the government and the Chinese envoy Yang Houlan. The government was severely criticized for its diplomatic faux pas from the media as well as the hardline Maoist faction of Mohan Baidya. The Chinese envoy tried his best to attribute the delay to China’s internal factors. Indeed, both the postponement and the transit visit had to be explained to the Nepali people.
The complete secrecy of the stopover visit might have had two reasons: either the Chinese premier was not wholly prepared to visit Nepal or he was mulling postponing it again at the last moment. Or he wanted to convey China’s dislike of the fact that the current Nepali establishment under Baburam Bhattarai, in sharp relief to other UCPN (Maoist) leaders firmly in the Chinese camp, seemed to be leaning more towards India.
Nepal was waiting for this visit with great curiosity and interest as a Chinese PM was visiting the country after a decade. On the contrary, the common people were not very enthusiastic about it, as no foreign dignitaries’ visit could facilitate the twin tasks of completion of the peace process and writing of the new constitution. The tenure of the Constituent Assembly has been extended multiple times to befit the interest of the political parties and the main political parties continue to fight for power by ignoring the larger goal at their hands.
Most importantly, the single biggest party in the CA, UCPN (Maoist), which is heading the government, has threatened to undermine the achievements of the peace process and constitution writing. Thus politically, Nepal’s situation is fluid, with its government constantly changing and no certainty of stability in the future. In such a situation, the visit of a foreign leader of Wen Jiabao’s clout has special significance.
Could it be that PM Wen wanted to convey a veiled warning to the Nepali PM? The proposition that China’s pressing budgetary and economic issues were behind the initial postponement can hardly convince anyone; such pressures build up over a long span of time, they don’t just emerge out of the blue. And it was not just any head of government visiting; but the second most powerful person of the second largest economy in the world, which dictates terms not just in the region but throughout the globe. The postponement of the visit of an emissary of such high import carries a lot of meaning.
PM Wen, who is relinquishing his office later this year after completing two innings as prime minister, has succeeded in leaving a stamp of his shrewd politics in the annals of the Chinese history. His political achievement seems to lie in improving Sino-China relationship on the one hand while on the other also encircling India strategically. PM Wen suggesting that Nepal improves its relation with India and his hope that the country would complete the peace process and constitution writing on its own (without any outside interference), deserve special attention.
This suggestion might have been dropped, like I implied earlier, because we wanted to put Bhattarai on alert vis-à-vis India. One fails to remember Chairman Mao suggesting the-then Prime Minister Tanka Prasad Acharya to have better relations with India as it was in the interest of Nepal. But the China of Mao is not the China of Wen Jiabao. The visits of various Chinese delegations almost on a monthly basis show Nepal is increasingly important to China strategically.
Against the backdrop of the rising cases of self-immolations of Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims in China, the Free Tibetan Movement, allegedly sponsored by foreign powers, could hardly be considered a priority necessitating such an untimely high level visit. Of late China seems to be enthusiastic on establishing rail links to Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha. But why?
Surely, the communists of China, who are without any religion, are not going to visit the place for its religious significance. It may, however, have strategic importance for China. Hence, PM Wen’s visit was rescheduled, as the Chinese are increasingly impatient to connect themselves with Lumbini in a cultural garb, with the ultimate goal of establishing a watching post to keep an eye on India and carefully weigh the southern neighbor’s role in Nepal.
The author is former Election Commissioner of Nepal