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Attend or not to attend Boao Forum: Nepal is in a Hamletian dilemma

Similar kind of uncertainty had loomed in 2021, too
Sitaram Baral

Sitaram Baral

 |  Beijing

Despite the invitation sent well ahead of the Boao Forum 2023, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' could not make it to last year's Forum.

There has been growing concern and uncertainty surrounding who will represent Nepal, a founding member, at the Asia-level non-profit forum, the Boao Forum for Asia.

On one hand, China has not given invitations to the top-notch leaders of Nepal to the Boao Forum due to uncertainty regarding who will represent Nepal. On the other hand, Nepal is also undecided on whom to send to attend the Asia-level important forum.

Former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is also the incumbent President of the Forum, on October 30 last year, announced that the Boao Forum would be held on March 26-29.

Ban in the press meeting organized to announce the date had said that the theme of this year would be "Asia and the World: Shared Challenges, Shared Responsibilities."  

With the announcement of the date and the theme of the Forum to be held in the beautiful city of Hainan, the southern province of China, the organizers started giving invitations to the founder member states and observer countries.

Even four months after the announcement of the date, neither Nepal has decided to send a leader to attend the Forum nor has China been able to single out a leader from the Himalayan country to participate in the Forum.

There is hardly one month left before the Forum starts. According to high-level sources at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the organizers have not sent the invitation due to indecision on the part of Nepal regarding who will attend the Forum.

China wants the head of state or the head of the government to participate in the Forum since it was established at its initiation. That was why China had invited Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal to the Forum held in 2023.

Despite the invitation being sent well ahead of the Forum, Prime Minister Dahal could not make it to last year's Forum on the pretext of the presidential election on March 9, and the vice presidential election on March 13, 2023.

Even though the reason for failing to attend the Forum on prima facie was the presidential election, it was, as a matter of fact, the geopolitical reason why Prime Minister Prachanda could not attend the Forum.

Prachanda was not in a position to risk his prime ministerial post by attending the Boao Forum in China before making his visit to New Delhi. That was why the invitation sent by China to attend the Forum last year was a waste of time. Nepali Ambassador to China Bishnu Pukar Shrestha attended the Forum.

"The organizers will send an invitation only after Nepal decides on who to attend the Forum so as not to let it be a waste of time," an official at the Foreign Ministry said.

This is the reason why China has not sent a letter to the Prime Minister even though it wants the latter's participation in the Forum.

The basis behind the assumption that Prime Minister Prachanda will not attend the Forum is his recent visit to China. He had embarked on a China visit to attend the inaugural ceremony of the Asian Games held in Hangzhou, the People’s Republic of China, Chinese analysts said.

As far as the participation of the Head of State is concerned, Nepal initiated this trend from the first Boao Forum.

In 2001, then King Birendra had participated. He was included as a respected guest in the closed session. This was his last foreign visit before he lost his life in the royal massacre on June 1, 2001.

Given this backdrop, President Ram Chandra Paudel also can attend the Forum this time, as the Head of State. Former President Dr Ram Baran Yadav also participated in the Forum in 2015.

Despite frequent participation at the Head of State level in the past, President Ram Chandra Paudel is not in a position to attend the Forum on the grounds of three reasons, the experts say.

First, his health is not stable. He has canceled many foreign visits due to his health condition in the past. Second, he might be willing to first visit India rather than China due to geopolitical reasons.

Third, China has to invite President Paudel to Beijing to accord his visit an honor as 'the state visit'. China is not in a position to welcome Puadel in both Beijing and Boao this time.

Further, the other nations are not its priority due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia-Ukraine, and Hamas-Israel ongoing wars.

According to the officials at the Nepali Embassy in Beijing, both the President and the Prime Minister are unlikely to attend the Forum which can be speculated due to the delay in receiving the invitation from China.

"Had there been a guarantee that either the President or the Prime Minister will attend the Forum, China would have already sent an invitation as it requires a lot of preparations before such high-level visits," an official at the Nepali Embassy in Beijing said. "March has already started. The organizers will remain busy with their programs till the second week of March. They will not normally give invitations to any heads of state or heads of government after the second week of March," he added.

The meetings of two important bodies which are responsible for making policies of China called 'Two Sessions' are taking place from March 4-5, the officials said.

Of them, the meeting of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference will start from March 4 while that of the National People's Congress will begin from March 5.

These meetings will run for seven to eight days on average, according to Yu Lei, the director of China International Press and Communications.

"These meetings will last for the second week of March. Boao Forum will begin on March 26. Since the gap between the end of 'Two Sessions' and the start of the Boao Forum is short, a two-week period is not sufficient for the preparation for the state-level visit," he said.

It is not, however, impossible to prepare the visit in a week or two if the President or the Prime Minister of Nepal and the Chinese side are willing to do so.

But the head of state and the head of government of Nepal do not seem to have the guts to attend the Forum by irking the southern neighbor.

Given this context, the Deputy Prime Minister or the Vice President is likely to attend the Boao Forum in case the head of state or the head of the government fails to attend the Asian-level important forum.

Vice President Ram Sahaya Yadav visited China to attend the China-South Asia Expo on August 16-20, 2023. Similarly, of the two deputy prime ministers, Narayan Kaji Shrestha also attended the Third Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) held on October 17-18. The remaining is Deputy Prime Minister Purna Bahadur Khadka. If Nepal participates in the Forum, Deputy Prime Minister Purna Bahadur Khadka is the most likely to attend it.

The possible leader to attend the Forum after Khadka is Foreign Minister NP Saud. But, he has not received an invitation from China to attend the Forum, yet. Besides, in the meeting with the Foreign Minister held earlier this week, Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Chen Song did not touch upon the Forum, it is learned.

Hence, there is uncertainty over the participation of Nepal in the Boao Forum.  

This kind of uncertainty occurred at the Boao Forum held in 2021. China did not send an invitation to any top leaders during that period. That was why, then Nepali Ambassador to China Mahendra Bahadur Pandey had attended the Forum.



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