01/11/2023, 14.24
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Maoist prime minister forced to balance the interests of Beijing and Delhi

Prachanda is back in power for a third time. He wants friendly relations with China and India, both of which are vying for influence in the Himalayas. In Nepal, the parties in the ruling coalition have different views on foreign policy. In the past, the Nepali Congress slammed encroachment by Chinese troops into Nepal.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Pushpa Kamal Dahal (commonly known as Prachanda) is Nepal’s new prime minister. His foreign policy will be “pro-Nepal”, based on "balanced, trustworthy and friendly " relations with all other states, including neighbouring China and India.

For the former Maoist rebel, this is his third time he won the confidence of parliament to lead the government. His appointment breaks the political logjam that followed last November’s elections, when no one was the clear winner.

For years, Nepal worked at strengthening its ties with China to counterbalance India’s traditional influence. China and India have opposing interests in the Himalayan region.

Prachanda now heads a coalition government of seven parties. His Maoist Centre is not even the largest in parliament; thus, finding unity of purpose in foreign policy will be a challenge.

The Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) is the main force in the ruling coalition. Like Prachanda, its leader, KP Oli, is on very good terms with China, but unlike the prime minister, he is hostile to any accommodation with India.

In 2019, as prime minister, Oli launched a tough anti-India campaign, accusing Nepal’s big neighbour of violating Nepali territory in the Kalapani region.

Since 2017, Nepal has been a partner in the Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s megaproject to boost China’s geopolitical role through infrastructural development in different parts of the globe.

On 1 January, Nepali authorities inaugurated an airport built with Chinese funds in Pokhara. Beijing immediately asked Prachanda to assess the possible construction of a trans-Himalayan railway line between Kathmandu and Kerung, in Tibet.

The previous government led by the Nepali Congress had not been very open to China. According to a report last February, Chinese troops crossed into Nepali territory in Humla district, on the border with Tibet, where the population depends heavily on trade with China.

In November 2020, Nepali Congress MPs (then in the opposition) slammed Chinese encroachment in the area, noting that Beijing had annexed tens of hectares of Nepali territory.

According to several observers, Beijing’s interest in this stretch of the border is explained by security considerations. China would like to limit the risk of Indian infiltration, and, at the same time, block escapes to Nepal from Tibet.

Between 20,000 and 30,000 Tibetans live in Nepal, but many others have used it to get to India and elsewhere to flee China’s repression against their Buddhist religious and cultural traditions.

China has long been urging Nepal to sign an extradition agreement that would endanger the Tibetan community that fled to the small Himalayan state.

Pressed by humanitarian and Tibetan liberation organisations, Nepali authorities have so far resisted China’s demand to sign a treaty.

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