The great march
Prime Minister K P Oli's political roller-coaster of a career has rocketed to new heights, thanks to a trip to Beijing. Now the prime minister is promising a more stable ride to prosperity for Nepali people.
Oli met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday, and the symbolism of two powerful Communist leaders of neighbouring countries shaking hands was not lost on anyone. The question now is: how much is Oli going to borrow from China about the methodology of prosperity?
After Oli-Xi meet, Nepali and Chinese officials and business leaders inked eight infrastructure pacts: private hydropower joint ventures in the Marsyangdi Cascade (600MW), Kali Gandaki Gorge (164MW) and Trisuli Galchi (75MW). China will also help Nepal establish a $140 million cement factory, a $40 million fruit processing facility and promote the pashmina industry.
Then on Thursday, Oli and his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang signed 10 more MoUs on even more ambitious projects: the Kerung-Kathmandu Railway, cross-border transmission lines, trade corridors and connectivity. A detailed survey of the Kerung-Kathmandu Railway will be completed in six months, and the first Chinese train will arrive in Kathmandu in six years. All this is expected to boost further Chinese investment, trade and tourism.
President Xi will visit Kathmandu soon, the first Chinese head of state to do so in 22 years. In 2016, when Oli visited China during his previous tenure, he made New Delhi anxious by deliberately showing a Beijing tilt. India punished him by allegedly helping topple his coalition, but his nationalist stand gave Oli an election victory last year.
Oli has now patched up with Indian Prime Minister Modi, and is deftly balancing Nepal’s ties with both neighbours. Chinese leaders have constantly reminded Nepal’s leaders of the need to work with India. Oli seems to have taken that advice to heart.
"Oli's China visit will not irk India because he has already taken Modi into confidence, and New Delhi and Beijing now have a better rapport," says ex-MP Abhishek Pratap Shah.
What worries some, like political analyst Hari Sharma, is that Oli may be over-enthusiastic in replicating the Chinese path to prosperity by copying its centralised one-party control. To be sure, Oli is indeed admiring the State-controlled society of China during his Beijing tour.
Sharma argues that Xi and Modi are the two sides of the same coin, and Oli seems to admire their style and ideology.
"The establishment wants to prove that Nepal's problems all stem from political polarisation, and a strong and stable government is a cure-all," Sharma says. "Oli now looks emboldened about centralising power like Xi or Modi as a pretext to achieving stability and prosperity."
Imitating the Chinese method could bring stability, Sharma warns, but it will undermine the core values of democracy, pluralism and an open society.