The Nepal government has announced that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Kathmandu slated for next week has been postponed.
While the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in Beijing on Tuesday the dates for the visit had not been confirmed, Nepal had earlier made it public that it would take place in the third week of December. Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Yang Houlan is understood to have conveyed to Foreign Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha ‘Prakash' that the reasons for the delay were internal.
Mr. Prakash later told reporters, “The dates had not been finalised. We will schedule new dates soon.” Another senior Cabinet Minister, Hridayesh Tripathi, said at a public function that the visit had not been ‘cancelled', but merely ‘postponed' due to “China's internal reasons”.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin said he “had no information to provide” on the visit.
There was also uncertainty whether the Myanmar leg of the Chinese Premier's trip had been put off, though one source in Beijing said the visit next week, for a regional summit, would likely still go ahead. Preparations were in full swing for the Kathmandu visit over the past weeks. The Nepal government had planned to request for a line of credit worth $5 billion for construction of major hydropower projects, like West Seti and Budhi Gandaki, and an international airport in Pokhara.
Kathmandu was abuzz with speculation about reasons for the postponement, with some attributing it to security concerns stemming from Tibetan activism in Nepal — an issue expected to be at the focus of Mr. Wen's visit.
However, Sudheer Sharma, editor of Nepal's largest daily, Kantipur, and a close observer of Nepal-China relations, said he did not think the postponement was due to a Nepal-related reason.
He said, “In fact, an official Chinese team was busy in negotiations with Nepali counterparts yesterday to lay ground for the visit, and initialled a few MoUs. Having said that, Nepal should have handled it better and not announced dates unilaterally.”
Han Hua, a professor of international relations in Peking University and a leading Chinese scholar on Nepal, told The Hindu in a recent interview that while the visit was unconfirmed, it was, still, long expected and overdue, being the first high-level visit under the Hu Jintao-Wen Jiabao government, and the first since that of Mr. Wen's predecessor, Zhu Rongji, in 2001.
Ms. Han said China's security concerns over Tibet would be a focus of any high-level visit. Recent self-immolations in Tibetan areas in China, with at least 11 reported cases, have heightened Chinese fears, with Beijing blaming an “overseas plot” to destabilise Tibet.
Hu Shisheng, a South Asia scholar at the China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), added in an earlier interview with The Hindu that China wanted “to do whatever it can to stabilise Nepal”.
“The instable situation in Nepal provide golden opportunities for those who want to play the Tibet Card to create problems for China in Tibetan regions,” he said.
“We know there are not few NGOs supporting Tibetan independence that are very active in Nepal. They want to use Nepal to make disturbances in Tibetan regions just like what they had done in the 1950-1970s. So, the stability, especially political stability of Nepal, is of great importance to China.”
The Chinese side was expected to raise concerns about ‘anti-Chinese activities' in Nepal and seek reassurances of Nepal's commitment to its ‘one China policy'.
In recent months, the Chinese side has also expressed an interest in the development of Lumbini, the Buddha's birthplace. The Nepal government has set up a Lumbini development committee under Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda', and earlier this year, a Chinese NGO had announced it would provide up to $3 billion for Lumbini's development.
The Nepal government has sought Chinese help to improve public transport and infrastructure in Kathmandu, and several highway projects. Assistance for special economic zones, construction of dry ports, and mechanisms to reduce the trade deficit were on Nepal's agenda. Finance Minister Barshaman Pun “Ananta' had announced that a Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPAA) would be signed with China — Nepal signed a similar agreement with India during Prime Minister Bhattarai's visit to New Delhi in October.