After returning to power in February 2018, Oli continued his anti-India stance and in May 2020 released new maps that showed Indian territories as part of Nepal

New Delhi: China is banking on a good performance of the opposition coalition parties in Nepal, led by former Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) in the 20 November polls that will decide the next Prime Minister of the country. As per inputs, the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is facing strong anti-incumbency with voters seeking new faces to run the next government.

The CPN-UML’s soon-to-be-released election manifesto, among other things, will be promising “resolving” border issues with India which the party believes is spread across the area of Kalapani, Limpiyadhura, and Lipulekh which leaders claim is a part of Nepal. The manifesto, however, is likely to be silent on the “salami-slicing” of Nepal’s territories at multiple places by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that has been undertaken in the past few years.

Similarly, the party’s manifesto is also likely to push for the completion of the China-Nepal railway project which has been inordinately delayed and missed several deadlines. The said project, which was a part of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), was initiated in 2016 and it was supposed to link Xigaze (also known as Shigatse) in Tibet to Kathmandu in Nepal.

The delay has been attributed by a section within Nepal to the fear that like other South Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Nepal, too, would fall into a debt trap of China as this is going to be a highly capital-intensive project with the cost likely to be around $8 billion, which Nepal is unlikely to fund, thereby leaving it with the only option of China funding the entire project. According to feasible study reports, about 98.5% of the railways will be bridges or tunnels.

The National Railway Authority of China submitted the preliminary study report of the Kerung-Kathmandu railway line which will be part of this project to the Government of Nepal in 2018 after which an agreement was reached during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Nepal in September 2019.

Chinese media has stated that the said project has failed to take off because of India’s security concerns and the said rail line will give easy access to China to flood Nepal with troops and material whenever it desires so without putting much effort or raising concerns. On 10 August, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met the visiting Nepali Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka in Qingdao, Shandong Province. In the meeting, Wang announced that China will use aid funds for Nepal to support the feasibility study of the 170 km China-Nepal cross-border railway, and will send experts to Nepal to conduct the survey work this year thereby indicating that the project was moving ahead despite all concerns of debt traps. Earlier in March, Wang Yi, while on a visit to Nepal, had met top Nepal officials, including Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and Nepalese foreign minister Narayan Khadaka, and signed nine agreements, two of which were related to the China-Nepal railways. The proposed 170-kilometer railway will link the city of Kerung in southern Tibet to Kathmandu, entering the Himalayan country from the Rasuwa district.

As per CPM-UML’s thinkers, Nepal needs to reduce its dependence on India and move closer to China with which it shares a closer ideological relationship, something that is likely to be visible in the manifesto. According to Kathmandu-based political experts, the ruling Nepali Congress, CPN-Maoist Centre, Communist Party of Nepal (United Socialist) [CPN-US that splintered from the CPN-UML], the Terai-based Loktantrik Samajwadi Party (LSP) and Rashtriya Janamorcha (RJ) were better placed as far as voters choices were concerned.

However, the situation would easily change if the CPN-UML gets more seats than the NC. “Parties in both the coalition are not bound by any common ideology and hence it should not come as a surprise if the coalition led by CPM-UML attracts more alliance partners post polls, especially the CPN-MC which is led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’. Nepal watchers in Beijing are closely watching the elections and there have been reports of associates of Hou Yanqi (Chinese Ambassador to Nepal since November 2018) interacting regularly with members of both CPN-UML and CPN-MC,” a senior Kathmandu-based journalist, while requesting anonymity, told The Sunday Guardian.

When Oli became the PM for the first time in 2015, the Chinese state media stated that the ties between the two countries would improve as a “Beijing-friendly” coalition was in power. As was predicted by the Chinese media, Oli’s tenure was filled with his anti-India stance and pro-China statements and actions. He had to resign in July 2016 after his government was reduced to a minority government, something which he blamed on India. After coming back to power in February 2018, Oli continued his anti-India stance and in May 2020 released new maps that showed Indian territories as part of Nepal.