China’s Xi Jinping arrives in Nepal with deals, promises, and pressure

Xi and Bhandari: Let’s make a deal.
Xi and Bhandari: Let’s make a deal.
Image: Reuters
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Nepal has been preparing for the first visit of a Chinese head of state since 1996 with, among things like fixing potholes and planting flowers, lessons in the thinking of Xi Jinping supplied by the Chinese Communist Party. Today, Xi arrived, promising business opportunities.

But anyone who has studied China’s president in action knows there’s a political cost to doing business with his nation.

From China’s perspective, landlocked Nepal is strategically located in South Asia. The democratic nation’s placement along India’s northern border and beside Tibet makes it a good political get for Xi, who has been pressuring Nepalese officials to sign an extradition treaty allowing China to extradite migrants from Tibet who often pass through Nepal to India. Inking that deal is reportedly high on Xi’s agenda.

It’s not yet clear that he’ll get what he wants, however.

Xi was met at the Kathmandu airport today by Nepalese president Bidya Devi Bhandari and will meet with various leaders throughout his 20-hour visit. According to the Kathmandu Post, the Chinese president is expected to sign about 12 deals with Nepalese officials on everything from energy-sector investment to the Kerung-Kathmandu railway to the creation of a center for Ayurvedic study and a university focused on science and technology. However, officials have been “tight-lipped” about some of the agreements, including, it seems, the extradition treaty, which was not one of the deals the local paper described as finalized.

Some in Nepal aren’t totally sold on embracing China, Xi, or his thought. “The Chinese are offering huge economic incentives during this visit, but they are injecting their own interests, too,” said Mrigendra Bahadur Karki, head of the Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, to the New York Times. “Xi is coming to Nepal to take it under China’s grip.”

Xi’s Nepalese visit comes on the heels of an informal meeting with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. Both India and China have sought to assert their influence in Nepal while they have traditionally been at odds with each other. But today Modi and Xi spoke of a new era of friendship between the world’s two most populous nations.

If the Chinese president has his way, by the weekend’s end he’ll be announcing a special relationship with the much smaller and less powerful country, one that leaves Tibetans fleeing Chinese oppression via Nepal with less hope of escape.