Chinese vice premier begins Nepal visit amid bribe scandal

He Yong is said to be heading a massive 21-member delegation.

Last Updated: Sep 11, 2010, 16:24 PM IST

Kathmandu: Nine years after the then Chinese prime minister Zhu Rongji visited Nepal, Beijing sent its second senior-most delegation to the country on Saturday amid allegations of Chinese involvement in an MP-buying scam and the Maoists’ continuous failure to win the Prime Ministerial Election.

He Yong, Chinese vice premier and secretary at the secretariat of the 17th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, arrived in Kathmandu on Saturday afternoon on a chartered flight from Beijing, Nepal’s aviation officials confirmed.

The Chinese leader is said to be heading a massive 21-member delegation that will meet caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala, Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and other key politicians.

Nepal’s Foreign Ministry said the delegation had come at the invitation of the Maoists as well as the two largest ruling parties, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist.

The delegation is also scheduled to visit Pokhara city and Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha in southern Nepal, before returning on September 16.

The Chinese visit comes at a very sensitive time with Beijing being suspected of supporting the Maoists in their bid to buy the votes of MPs and win the ongoing election for a new prime minister.

The scandal erupted earlier this month after the emergence of an audio tape in which a man, believed to be Maoist former minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, sought to strike a deal with a Chinese "friend" to obtain NRS 500 million and buy the votes of 50 MPs for Maoist chief Prachanda.

Though both - the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu and the Maoists - have dismissed the tape as a fake and baseless, the uneasy former guerrillas however have blocked Parliament from discussing the issue.

The ruling parties wanted to raise the allegations on Thursday but failed after the Maoists opposed the proposal, saying they had not been given sufficient time to discuss the issue.

Now the ruling parties are reported to be seeking to take the matter up once more in Parliament on Monday, when the Chinese delegation will be in Nepal. However, there is speculation that the Maoists will block the move once again.

Following the audio tape scandal, a youth organisation held protests in front of the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu, demanding that China stop interfering in Nepal’s internal matters.

However, unlike Indian diplomacy in Nepal, the Chinese lobbying has been so successful that even more than a week after the bribe scandal became public, neither the caretaker government nor Parliament has initiated an inquiry though the chairman of Parliament, Subas Nembang, was petitioned by parties as well as civil society members to investigate the tape incident.

Meanwhile, the Maoists, who failed to ensure Prachanda’s victory even after seven rounds of election, are gearing up for the eighth round of vote September 26.

While Prachanda is determined to contest in the eighth round, his two deputies, Baburam Bhattarai and Mohan Vaidya, have been advocating a pullout.

Unlike visits by Indian politicians and officials, which invariably trigger a row in Nepal, there has been no adverse reaction to the Chinese team despite the bribery allegation.

IANS