BEIJING, Nov 20: Although he observed Nepal closely while in Tibet in the late 1980s, Hu Jintao never made a state visit to the Himalayan nation during his decade-long tenure as Chinese president. Yet, Hu accomplished two important tasks in Nepal: help Nepali political parties to conclude peace process and increase Chinese influence in a country that is geopolitically critical for Tibet´s stability.
At a time when Hu´s term as Chinese president is being reviewed, Beijing firmly believes that the towering leader of the fourth generation of the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) did what he could for Nepal.
Chinese thinkers opine that no one else could have done more than Hu, given the Himalayan nation´s tumultuous political situation over the last decade.
Prof Wang Hong-wei, of Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, believes that China-Nepal relationship was further consolidated during Hu´s tenure (2003-2012) although he did not visit Nepal even for a while, like Chinese premier Wen Jiabao did early this year.
Wang finds it very natural that Nepal expected more from China during Hu´s tenure especially because Hu worked very closely with the office of the Consulate General of Nepal in Lhasa as well as the local Nepali community when he served as the party´s secretary in Tibet between 1988 and 1992. Hu´s stint in Tibet marked by political unrest resulting in the deployment of hundreds of People´s Armed Police was critical in his political rise in Beijing.
However, Wang wants to make it clear that China provided more grants to Nepal during Hu´s term. Wang also believes that China, as one of the members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council, played a positive role in Nepal´s peace process. "Hu often encouraged and helped Nepali political leaders to conclude the peace process," the 70-year-old professor said. "In his tenure, Hu did all he could do for Nepal."
During last week´s congress of the CPC, Xi Jinping succeeded Hu as the new party general secretary and the chairman of the party´s central military commission. In his political document presented at the congress, Hu, who is all set to step down in March while paving the way for Xi to become new president of the world´s emerging superpower, had claimed that he had achieved a new milestone in strengthening China´s diplomatic relations with other countries.
However, unlike his predecessor Jiang Zemin, Hu could not visit Nepal. Hu Shisheng, Director, Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceanic Studies, the Chinese Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICR), points out Nepal´s geopolitical condition as the main reason behind Hu´s apparent reluctance to visit Nepal.
"Had India construed Hu´s visit to Nepal as a challenge by China, the south block could have gone to any extent to counter-balance Chinese influence -- whether real or perceived -- in Nepal," said Hu Shisheng. "It would have been unfortunate to Nepal if China and India had started competing with each other (in Nepal)."
Hu Shisheng says that Nepal´s own political instability also deterred Hu from visiting Nepal. "When you are not sure who will be prime minister the next day, how can you expect Chinese president to visit Nepal?," asked Hu Shisheng.
Hu became Chinese president at a time when Nepal still was a kingdom. As Nepal´s monarchy always protected Chinese interests with regard to Tibet, China never felt the need to increase its influence in Nepal. After the fall of the monarchy, China rekindled its relations with Nepal´s political parties. When followers of the Dalai Lama staged massive demonstrations in Lhasa, Beijing further felt the need of a good friend in Nepal, which led to the rise in Chinese interest in Nepal.
Tanka Karki, Nepal´s former ambassador to China, recalls how Hu, in 2009, requested Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal to be committed toward peace and new constitution. Karki says peace and constitution were two key points that Hu dwelt upon even when the then Nepalese Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal met him in 2009.
"The goodwill and support by Hu as well as Chinese premier Wen Jiabao were important for Nepal to ensure peace and write constitution," said Karki. "But, we failed to get more support from China even when Hu, who knew Nepal like no other Chinese leader, became president. It was largely because we could not set our economic agenda overcoming political instability."
Even though Hu did not visit Nepal, Chinese premier Wen had come to Nepal on a brief visit in early 2012.