Reaction to Wang Yi’s Nepal visit in Chinese media

Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi and diplomats after seeing off Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi's plane in Kathmandu airport on 27 March.

A day after Chinese State Councilor and Foreign minister Wang Yi’s visit to Nepal was announced, my Chinese professor cited a Nepali news source which he received from a foreign colleague to inform the class about the three-day visit to Kathmandu.

Without timely reporting, Chinese netizens who are dependent on the official press and social media for news had been largely unaware about Wang Yi’s ‘Journey To the West’ until he was already in Nepal on 25 March.

‘Journey to the West’ is a proper noun in Mandarin and derived from an extended account of the Tang dynasty Buddhist monk Xuanzang, who travelled to the ‘Western regions’ of Central Asia and the Subcontinent in the 7th century to obtain sacred texts.

Compared to delay in reporting Wang Yi’s Pakistan, Afghanistan and India visits, news on Weibo that he was in Kathmandu on the second day was relatively more timely. The late media reports and posts of his ‘Journey To the West’ could have been deliberate so as to make the news stale, and not create a big fuss.

Although Global Times, Xinhua and other state media published articles on the visit, it was not shared on their Weibo pages because it could have likely created undesired discussions. Moreover, the visit coincided with the tragic crash on 21 March of a China Eastern Boeing 737-800 that diverted the attention of netizens.

Similar low-key reporting was observed when Global Times and other state-owned media took more than a day to react to the ratification of the American MCC grant by Nepal’s Parliament on 27 February.

At that time, Chinese cybersphere was rife with reference of other international websites and expressing curiosity about why the MCC news was not trending on Weibo yet. Whether this was intentional or not, it successfully suppressed the hashtag ‘Nepal approved US aid deal’ (尼泊尔通过美援助协议) which reached the Top 11 on Weibo as soon as the state media reported about it.  (Screenshot below)

It is most likely that in the case of Nepal, the uproar over the MCC ratification on Weibo was toned down to welcome Wang Yi’s visit to Nepal. Besides the nine agreements signed between Nepal and China during his visit this week, a bigger takeaway was Wang Yi’s talks about China’s ‘Three Supports’ for Nepal:

1) Supporting Nepal in pursuing a development path suited to its national condition

2) Supporting Nepal in pursuing independent domestic and foreign policies

3) Supporting Nepal in participating in the Belt and Road cooperation to a greater extent

One article in the Chinese media noted that the second and third ‘supports’ in particular were a clear reminder to Nepal that it should remain independent in its relations with China, and take the long-term bilateral relations into consideration.

The hashtag尼泊尔通过美援助协议 (Nepal approved US aid deal) trends at Top 11 on Weibo on 1 March, 2022

Moreover, Nepal ‘should not be easily deceived by the US investment’ and ‘$500 million is not worth the sacrifice of Nepal's sovereignty’.

In a recent interview with the China’s state-media, Wang Yi admitted that his visit to South Asia came at a time of the spreading spillover effect of the Ukraine crisis and threats to world peace. He confirmed that China’s neighborhood holds a top position in Beijing’s overall diplomacy, saying it was “better to be a close neighbour than a distant relative” to South Asian countries.

While Nepal’s own mainstream press focussed on the nine agreements inked during Wang Yi’s visit and photo-ops with Nepal’s leaders, Chinese media and cybersphere were fixated on Nepal’s reiteration of the One China Policy and commitment towards ‘never allowing any forces to use the Nepali territory to engage in any anti-China activities’.

Prof Xue Xiaorong of the School of Marxism at Fudan University, who has over 170k followers on Weibo, posted that the ‘explanatory notes’ on MCC ratification was Nepal’s way of expressing goodwill to China, and the reason behind Nepal’s firm commitment to Minister Wang was to reassure China that it has not sold out its sovereignty to the Americans.

This was met with sarcastic comments by some Chinese social media users who urged China not to trust a ‘sold country’. A WeChat page reporting on Nepal, Xin Niboer (新尼泊尔), dug out a relatively obscure news item of a small protest on Sunday in Janakpur against the 9-point agreement between Nepal and China.

Besides the expected meetings with President Bidya Devi Bhandari, Prime Minister Deuba, Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka , Wang Yi also met two Communist leaders Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the Maoist Centre and K P Oli of the UML .

While Wang Yi’s talk with Dahal were reported with predictable remarks from both sides thanking each other for their effort and support, the meeting with Oli was cited in the Chinese media with greater sentiment.

You are an old friend to the Chinese people,” Wang Yi is reported to have told Oli, reminding him that it was when he was prime minister in 2019 that Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a historic visit to Nepal which ‘achieved important outcomes and brought bilateral relations to a new level’.

This reporting could signal that the tables may have turned on Dahal’s positive impression in China as a ‘Maoist’ leader. Some comments on Chinese social media remarked that ‘this was not the same Prachanda’ as the one in 2006. Others joked that Prachanda was the rabbit in the race with the turtle and had underestimated the ‘intensity of the struggle’ back then.

Another comment called Wang Yi’s meetings with Nepal’s two top Communist leaders as sending a message to the Americans that ‘if they can interfere in Nepal’s internal affairs then so will China’.

Regardless, as much as Nepal has stressed on supporting One China Policy, China has equally stressed on non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

It was not lost on many that Wang Yi’s visit to Nepal came just over a month after Nepal’s Parliament approved the MCC. This undoubtedly is a factor that has made Beijing rethink its Nepal policy, which is an extension to the whole region.

In his interview in state media, Wang Yi stressed that his South Asia tour was to stress the importance to work with neighbours, and ‘to build an Asian community with a shared future’.

Aneka Rebecca Rajbhandari is a Masters student of Chinese Politics at Renmin University of China.