Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s diplomatic dance: Unexpected triumphs in US and China relations

Pushpa Kamal Dahal received a guard of honour in China.

During a period when the media was abuzz with discourse, all eyes and ears were fixed on Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the chair of the Maoist Centre. The focal point was how he would address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) issue while managing the persistent pressure exerted by self-proclaimed elite communities, who consistently voiced their opinions through Twitter. In a surprising turn of events, Dahal cleverly outmanoeuvred them, taking a bold step that ultimately led to his victory.

This also happened against the background of several petitions filed by familiar foes, mostly on issues falling under the jurisdiction of the TRC, as well as on some political statements made by Dahal during political rallies. These petitions, driven by the sole intention of sowing confusion and potentially derailing an already overwhelmed justice system, will likely yield nothing more than show-cause orders from the judiciary.

In regards to those petitions, it appears that these familiar adversaries intend to generate confusion among the general public and inadvertently further burden the already congested justice system. It is conceivable that these opponents were counting on Dahal not seizing the opportunity to address these pressing issues on a global platform, such as the UN General Assembly in New York while dealing with matters at home.

Unsurprisingly, Dahal known for his penchant and tendency for unexpected political maneuvers, went ahead and not only attended the 78th UNGA at the United Nations Headquarters in New York but engaged in bilateral with several world leaders and high-level UN delegates.

The message was clear: Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who is the only signatory alive of the Comprehensive Peace Accord signed between the Nepal Government and the then Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) on November 22, 2006, remains committed to ensuring the peace process comes to a lawful and peaceful conclusion.

He expressed and reassured the international community of his commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, and international humanitarian laws and fundamental principles and values related to human rights.

Dahal’s powerful message

Pushpa Kamal Dahal
Pushpa Kamal Dahal with US President Joe Biden

As the Chair of the Group of Least Developed Countries, Dahal used the platform not only to discuss pressing matters concerning Least Developed Countries, including climate change, Sustainable Development Goals, and development cooperation but also deftly used his 19 minutes on the UNGA podium to address the crucial issues surrounding Nepal’s peace process and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

His statements, as summarised briefly by the UN webpage, clearly show how tactfully he started his speech. The opening statement of his speech conveyed a potent message to the global community.

Furthermore, Pushpa Kamal Dahal has demonstrated his humility and sought help from the international community, which reiterates his commitment to the international community and his readiness to work together with all stakeholders. He also met with United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

His message was clear again: “I am dedicated to ensuring that Nepal’s peace process adheres to the terms of the peace accord.”

Do not be astonished if the UN Secretary-General pays a visit to Nepal shortly.

He also took the opportunity to hold a meeting with Rabab Fatima, the UN High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Xi Jinping
Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Xi Jinping

Following his visit to the US, he promptly headed to China, where he engaged in one-on-one meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Additionally, he engaged in discussions with Premier Li Qiang and had an audience with the Chairperson of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Zhao Leji.

These meetings played a pivotal role in fortifying mutual trust and laid the foundation for numerous Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) across diverse sectors. The establishment of these relationships, anchored in the shared social and economic progress of the peoples of both nations, held particular significance in light of the delayed or postponed engagements due to the Covid pandemic.

The outcome of his visits

Nepal and China
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and his Chinese counterpart Li Qiang. Photo: PM Secretariat

Let us shift our attention from the finer details of his visit, which have already been extensively covered by numerous media outlets, and instead, concentrate on the results of the visit.

While labelled by some as an unsuccessful visit, certain politicians, self-proclaimed elites, and several media sources dismissed it as a mere tourist and leisure trip, considering Dahal’s journey a success. Our tendency has often been fixated on the notion that success equates to immediate gains. However, in this instance, it did not yield such outcomes, nor did it meet general expectations.

However, the utmost respect and political importance given to Dahal’s visit by the Chinese side is something to value. We should not take it for granted. Not long ago, we were busy criticising how India laid a low-level welcome to Dahal.

Our core objective should be to build on this relationship and yield the results gradually. In diplomacy, the most important tool is a relationship, and clearly, Dahal has outdone all his predecessors. His body language throughout the trip is evident and he came out as a reliable leader and a trusted neighbour.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal has proven himself a skilled diplomat, in my observation spanning since 2006 when I first joined the UN. I hold a strong belief that he is the leader in Nepal capable of aligning diverse interests and producing tangible outcomes. His recent visit is a clear testament to his ability to achieve the intended results.

One could make the argument, and I do not fault anyone for this perspective, as we tend to gauge the success or failure of an official visit based on what agreements were reached and what was gained for us during these engagements.

We are not very keen on developing our friendship, understanding cultures, and building bridges. For instance, I was talking to one of my comrades, a martyr’s son, who asked me what my thoughts were on Dahal’s visit to China.

Before I responded, he further added that he viewed Dahal’s visit as a family vacation, which made him recall his childhood when his mama (maternal uncle) took him to Pokhara on a family trip.

He, like most of us, expected some landmark signing or a chunk of donation. Mind you, this comrade is one of the brightest minds among youths who is enrolled in law school, running an online news portal, and supporting several social movements. If his reasoning for success or failure is material-based, what about most of us?

Too quick to judge?

Pushpa Kamal Dahal
File photo

It is no surprise that most of us termed his visit a failure.

Therefore, general expectations would be that he should have at least touched on issues on border and security issues like his predecessors, or the newly found patriotic issue – Nepal’s newly published map.

Dahal took rather cautious steps on those issues; however, one cannot deny that a significant start has been made: the joint statement summarised the MoU on cooperation in the field of agriculture, livestock and fisheries and also the readiness to explore the joint development of an agriculture industrial demonstration part to further promote cooperation on agriculture.

This is a good step in the long run if abided by. The joint statement further read that the two sides also agreed to undertake a joint inspection of the China-Nepal border and agreed to bring into force the agreement between the government of the People’s Republic of China and the government of Nepal on the Boundary Management System as soon as possible. They also agreed to expedite the ratification of the China-Nepal treaty on mutual legal assistance in Criminal Matters.

Are these steps not important for us?

In summary, despite garnering mixed reactions, Dahal’s two-week visit can be deemed an accidental success. I label it as accidental because it surpassed even Dahal’s expectations, and he has every reason to take pride in it.

Notably, Dahal, often characterised as emotional by many leaders due to his heartfelt decision-making approach, approached both crucial issues—the conclusion of Nepal’s peace process in UNGA, and security matters with China—with careful consideration.

The Times of India headlined on September 27: Nepal PM ‘Prachanda’ apparently declines to endorse President Xi’s security doctrine during China visit. This is phenomenal and a very important diplomatic step. Is this not a smart move? Who can snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat like Dahal?

Upon his return to Nepal, within hours, not only was Dahal able to resume the parliament, which was strongly opposed by the UML on the gold smuggling probe row, but the mighty main opposition leader was his cheerleader while he briefed about his visit –– this is Dahal and his ability to resolve the differences.

History will dictate right or wrong, success or failure, but for now, we all should cherish the accidental success that has been delivered in his visit.

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Karki is an expert in diplomacy and international relations with a background in law.

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