Soon after the “informal summit” between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, China moved to outsmart India in Nepal, where both New Delhi and Beijing compete for influence.
Modi and Xi had the second “informal summit” at Mamallapuram near Chennai on Friday and Saturday. Chinese President flew from Chennai to Kathmandu on Saturday for a two-day state visit to Nepal.
His visit saw Kathmandu signing as many as 18 agreements with Beijing, some of which are aimed at improving rail and road connectivity between Nepal and China and apparently intended to lessen Nepal’s reliance on India.
What set the alarm bells ringing in New Delhi is Xi’s promise that China would safeguard the sovereignty of Nepal.
“China firmly supports Nepal in safeguarding national sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and in pursuing a development path tailored to its national reality,” Xi wrote in an article published in some newspapers in Kathmandu on Friday.
His words signaled China’s desire to play a greater role in Nepal, which hitherto had a “special and privileged relations” with India.
Sources told the DH that although Nepal’s relations with no other country could replace the one that it shared with India, New Delhi had taken note of Chinese President’s remark, signaling Beijing’s desire to play the role of a security guarantor to Nepal.
New Delhi’s relations with Kathmandu came under stress after the new constitution adopted by the Constituent Assembly of Nepal in September 2015 triggered protests. The disgruntled communities like Madhesis and Tharus resorted to protests in Nepal, alleging that the new constitution failed to allay their concerns over further marginalization and to meet their aspirations.
The protest by Madhesis and Tharus resulted in the disruption of supplies of essentials from India to Nepal. Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli’s Government in Kathmandu accused New Delhi of blocking the supplies of the essentials from India to Nepal to force Kathmandu to make changes in the new Constitution, with a more inclusive approach.
Modi hosted Oli, who commenced his second term in office of Prime Minister of Nepal on February 15, 2018. To counter Beijing’s growing influence, New Delhi agreed not only to build a rail-link but also to help the landlocked country get access to the oceans through inland waterways.