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Nepal Polls: China’s meddling and India’s hydropower games

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Since 2008, China has taken advantage of the willingness of some communist factions in Nepal to deepen diplomatic ties. While some view it as cooperation, a majority term it is as blatant interference.

New Delhi, Nov 07: The Chinese influence in Nepal is a well known fact and ahead of this month's elections, the Himalayan nation faces a tough task. Writing in Foreign Policy, Marcus Andreopoulos, a senior research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Foundation says that China has become increasingly more involved Nepal's domestic politics.

Nepal Polls: China’s meddling and India’s hydropower games

There is a great amount of resentment among the voters who have in the past few years seen their government breakdown and formation. The fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping has got a third term has made him more assertive and Nepal is of great interest to Beijing in its bid to assert its dominance in South Asia.

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Nepal became a democracy in 2008 and since then China has taken advantage of the willingness of of some communist factions in Nepal to deepen diplomatic ties, the Foreign Policy report says. While some view it as cooperation, a majority term it is as blatant interference.

In the year 2017, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified-Marxist-Lenninist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) announced that they would contest the elections together. It was clear at that time the Chinese Communist Party had a direct role in it. Although this alliance won in 2018, it broke in 2021 and this has baffled many as there were huge differences among seemingly aligned parties.

While the meddling continues, things have not been exactly the same. In 2019, Nepal endorsed China's position on Taiwan. However, that was under the pro-China K P Sharma Oli.

Since the collapse of the coalition, a lot has changed under the Nepali Congress-led coalition. Kathmandu has been wary of starting the Belt and Road Initiative which Nepal had signed in 2017. There are concerns about the Chinese debt trap which both Sri Lanka and Nepal are in. Further Nepal also joined other South Asian countries condemning China's approach in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.

Andreopoulos said that any hope of a free Tibet would, however, be quashed if the CCP is able to sandwich the region between two like-minded governments in Beijing and Kathmandu.

While India continues to keep a close watch, it must be noted that Nepal has started to shift its hydropower projects worth billions of dollars from Chinese developers to Indian companies. This is largely because India as Nepal's principal buyer of exported electricity, apparently refuses to buy power produced by Chinese built plants.

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"India won't buy electricity from the West Seti hydro project if it's built by Chinese companies so I am going to give it to India," Prime Minister of Nepal Sher Bahadur Deuba said.

"We will be able to reduce the trade deficit with India by selling electricity and this will help foster better cooperation and mutual sharing of water resources between two countries," he also said.

On November 2, New Delhi agreed to repeated requests from Kathmandu and opened its door for Nepal to sell 39 MW of electricity produced by the 24 MW Trishuli Hydropower Project and the 15 MW Devighat Hydropower Project in the India Energy Exchange Limited. Both these projects were developed by Nepal with assistance from India.

From being power deficit, Nepal became power surplus in August last year with the commissioning of the 456MW Upper Tamakoshi Hydropower Project. Since June this year, the export of power from Nepal to India has increased to 364 MW from six more hydropower projects. This, in turn, has also increased Nepal's earnings.

"The earnings from power export to India have considerably improved our foreign exchange reserves which had decreased by 18.2 per cent during the one-year period between April 2021 and April 2022," Nepal's power minister Pampha Bhusal said.

This has encouraged India to publicise the development to create a positive impact on Nepal's policy and its civil society.

India would hope for a stable government in Nepal which would keep its strategic interests in mind. However, a watcher explained to OneIndia that what would be worrisome is that Nepalese leaders have been driven by their thirst for power and the post of Prime Minister. Hence expecting a stable government this time too would be optimistic on India's part.

New Delhi would prefer a pro-India Deuba at the helm. However, the worry would be that his political position could become tenuous as he would have to return to power with the help of a coalition which has many Beijing supporters.

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