In 1970, the royal wedding of then-crown Prince Birendra and Aishwarya was well underway. The high-profile event had over 50 invitees and attendees including the King of Laos, the President of India, and the crown Prince and Princess of Afghanistan (just to name a few).
Yet, from China’s side, things were a bit different. Given, the Chinese were going through a tumultuous period of the cultural revolution, Premier Zhou Enlai had a different view on his not being able to participate. In 1970, during a conversation between Premier Zhou Enlai and then Charge d’ Affairs of the Nepal Embassy in Beijing (and one of Nepal’s eminent Sinologists) Niranjan Bhattarai, Premier Zhou expressed sincere regret for not being able to attend the crown Prince and Princess wedding. The main reason was that there was no directly connecting flight at that time which was time-consuming for the Chinese side to make attendance.
Premier Zhou said, “If the planes could fly directly over Tibet to Kathmandu, it would be good for me to go for a day. I have been waiting. Will there be such an opportunity?”
It indeed was Premier Zhou’s last wish to fly over to the Himalayas to Nepal, but was later fulfilled by Deng Xiaoping. On February 3, 1978, under the invitation of the Prime Minister Kirti Nidhi Bista, Deng Xiaoping arrived in Kathmandu on a special plane to pay an official and friendly visit to the Kingdom of Nepal.
Deng Xiaoping, who was vice-premier at that time, was personally greeted by Prime Minister Bista, along with hundreds of Nepali officials and diplomatic envoys in a grand welcome. The AP archive footage also shows Deng’s welcome in Nepal.
Open up the Lhasa route
On the afternoon of February 3rd and 4th, Deng Xiaoping and Kirti Nidhi Bista held two in-depth talks on the international and regional situation, China’s domestic and foreign policies, China – Nepal relations, and China’s economic assistance to third-world countries.
Whether China’s foreign policy will change after the death of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, and whether it will move towards hegemony was a major cause for concern for the countries.
Deng said to Bista “ China’s foreign policy is firm and will not change. Especially Chairman Mao taught us never to seek hegemony, as we will always belong to the third world. Now China is a veritable third-world country and a developing country, and it will not seek hegemony when it becomes developed in the future. The difference is that then we will be able to make a greater contribution to the third world.”
In response to the Nepali side’s request that its passenger planes transit through China’s airspace, Deng Xiaoping gave a clear reply on behalf of the Chinese government:
“China agrees in principle that Nepali planes will transit through China’s air. The western line, that is the line that connects Pakistan via China, has already been agreed upon in the past. The eastern route, that is the line connecting Hong Kong and Tokyo, can also be considered in principle.”
A few months after the visit, Deng Xiaoping explicitly requested relevant parties to open tourist routes to Lhasa. “ Foreigners are interested in Lhasa”, Deng said, adding “ Tourists who visit Nepal can also come to Lhasa. By doing this, Nepal will be happy and we can also increase our income.”
The Great Wall Cigar
Realizing the significance of Deng Xiaoping’s visit, King Birendra forfeited his month-long inspection of Nepal’s western region and held a grand state banquet for Deng Xiaoping on the evening of February 3.
On February 4, the Metropolitan Council of Kathmandu held a mass meeting on the lawn of Tundikhel to warmly welcome Deng Xiaoping’s visit to Nepal. Deng delivered a speech, emphasizing that the “Chinese government and people will resolutely support the just cause of the Government and [then] the Kingdom of Nepal in safeguarding national independence and national sovereignty.”
On February 5, Deng Xiaoping visited the cities of Patan and Bhaktapur. In the evening of that same day, a farewell banquet was held to express his gratitude to the Nepali side for the warm reception thus concluding his official visit to Nepal.
Yet, what was an interesting aspect of Deng’s visit to Nepal was the gifts and packaging. Upon meeting King Birendra, Deng Xiaoping presented King Birendra with two state gifts: Metasequoia, a rare plant that is unique to China, and the Great Wall cigar.
The Great Wall cigar is considered to be China’s most influential cigar brand made in Sichuan province (a province that has close proximity to Nepal). It’s one of Sichuan’s most important brands and has a massive international reputation in the cigar world. Its packaging has the blue and gold of the Nepali flag as the main color expressing peace and honor and was a symbolic expression of friendship between China and Nepal. The Great Wall cigar, at that time, was bestowed with winning the “National gift award” hence, the box itself was specially designed for Nepal keeping in values of history, culture and art into one packaging.
The Araniko Project published it on 22 August, 2022- “Context: Today marks the 119th birth anniversary of China’s famed leader Deng Xiaoping who was born on 22 August 1904. This article summarizes Deng Xiaoping’s visit to Nepal in 1978 and commemorates his commitment to fulfilling Premier Zhou Enlai’s unfulfilled wish.”