‘T-shirt diplomacy’ wasn’t Beijing’s fault, but more caution is needed



China didn’t break diplomatic protocol and etiquette when an official wore a T-shirt to greet Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Nepal’s prime minister-in-waiting who arrived in mid-Sept but wasn’t on a formal visit.

But analysts pointed out Beijing’s officials could treat their guest from Kathmandu with more caution to avoid unnecessary diplomatic trouble.

In a recent story titled “T-shirt diplomacy”, the Nepali Times compared the different treatments Dahal had in India and in China, on his two recent foreign visits, both in mid-September.

India’s “lavish welcome” for Dahal was in “sharp contrast to the lukewarm treatment” in Beijing a week later, the paper wrote.

Despite not holding any executive or constitutional post, Dahal in Delhi was accorded the kind of lavish welcome heads of government get on official state visits: a meeting with Prime Minister Modi, other top leaders, and a banquet. The only thing missing was a guard of honour.

“No such fanfare in Beijing,” the paper said. Neither Chinese President Xi Jinping nor Premier Li Keqiang had time for Dahal. At his port of entry in Guangzhou, Dahal was welcomed by a Chinese deputy minister wearing a polo T-shirt.


In diplomatese, the Nepali Times continued, the Chinese message was: “You are India’s pick, not ours.”

A Kathmandu-based foreign affairs expert says Dahal’s lukewarm welcome in China clearly signaled what lay in store for him. “Delhi clearly projected Dahal as the PM-in-waiting, and the future party leader. But Beijing is not in favour of his plan to dethrone Prime Minister Oli halfway through his five-year term.”

Chinese analysts didn’t agree. They say such comparison is too simplistic and, to some extent, misleading.

Dahal was not on an official visit, so he was received in an informal manner,  a Beijing-based South Asia analyst said.

Dahal visited China in the capacity of the leader of Nepal’s Communist Party and a former prime minister, so he was greeted by the International Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (IDCPC), which is in charge of the CPC’s relations with political parties from other states.

He denied the view that China didn’t attach enough significance to Dahal.

“Even it was an informal visit, Minister of IDCPC Song Tao was still dressed up in suit during a meeting with Dahal,” the analyst noted.


But even though the official didn’t break the diplomatic protocol and etiquette by wearing a T-shirt to greet Dahal, he didn’t show enough caution.

“Can you imagine that would happen if it was the American president-in-waiting coming in personal capacity”, another foreign affairs analyst said.

He said such carelessness should be avoided, as small details might be wrongly interpreted to lead to unnecessary diplomatic trouble.

Both China and India are vying for bigger influence in Nepal, a landlocked smaller country caughted between the two powerhouses.


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