We have a tradition of Prime Ministers visiting India and China whenever they are sworn in power. This is not just tradition, but also our ‘reality’ and ‘geopolitical necessity’. The harsh reality is that we are surrounded on three sides by India and one side by China, with the high Himalayas. We can’t move beyond this ‘destiny of geography’ and this has shaped our thinking, philosophy, foreign policy and art of living life since millennia.
The growing Nepali diaspora in the US, Australia and Europe has different opinion in ‘widening up’ Nepal to the globe but Nepal can’t escape from the ‘revenge of geography’ dynamic and wide-ranging Great Game of the super powers. Our main task is to maintain cordial relations with both India and China but given the fact that, these both giants are standing differently on global issues; we are caught in their rivalries. Plus, we have a ‘sky’ neighbor i.e., US which has a larger-than-life influence in the minds of ordinary Nepali, dreaming an ‘American Dreams’ every day. So, gambit of putting the US-China-India on same page for Nepal in terms of Nepal matters becomes a day dream and dealing with them independently is ‘jaw breaking’ task. Now, with the result of this situation we largely face the ‘survival challenge’.
Building on this, our Prime Minister Prachanda paid a state visit to the China dated September 23-30th, 2023. The Nepali and Chinese sides released the Joint Statement on September 26th, 2023, focusing on various issues, including sharing common views on political matters, as well as perspectives on connectivity and development. Here, I would like to discuss the key tenets of this Joint Statement.
Understanding the ‘text’ of the Joint Statement
Underling the Joint Statement released by the Nepali Foreign Ministry and Chinese Foreign Ministry about Prime Minister Prachanda’s visit to China; I have put it in to ‘PD’ acronym namely ‘Politics & Development’. In terms of politics, both countries have agreed on one vital issue. For the first time, Nepal has move ahead by saying “Nepali side is against Taiwan independence”. In every previous visit, Nepal adhered to China’s ‘One China’ policy, which directly asserts that Taiwan, Tibet and Hong Kong are inalienable parts of China. This raises question about the urgency of going ahead by countering our traditional stance of ‘One China’ policy to this level. If we support China in this straight forward manner; is there any possibility from Chinese side to speak for us with regards to Lipulekh? —that, it is the tri-junction, which border India, China and Nepal. Will Chinese stand with us with respect to our larger territorial claims with India in regards to Limpiyadhura
These questions are vital and we as a Nepali must be clear. We know that, regarding Taiwan, several western efforts are going on to liberalize it. Especially the US, being the paramount development partner of Nepal, has significant leverage in ‘branding’ our country in global sphere, whether as ‘democratic’, ‘corrupt’ or ‘authoritarian’. This is due to the fact that, it is the sole super power in current world. Standing against the US foreign policies believes may hamper our relation with the US and overall international branding of our country. If we receive similar pressure from the US side to recognize Tibetan refugee in Nepal on the ‘humanitarian’ ground; then how can we able to navigate it. These challenges need to take seriously.
If we want to move ahead with the ‘One-China’ policy, what would be our implementation position in line with the Prime Minister Prachanda’s previous visit to India in 2016, during which he agreed to believe that, “the two Prime Ministers believe that both countries hold similar views on major international issues”? Back then, this ‘text’ hasn’t’ been well received by Nepali public. The then, public reaction was that, Nepal wanted to move beyond from practicing its ‘independent foreign policy’. This makes our foreign policy seem too “childish”.
If we are knowingly going towards the direction of the great China-US rivalry, do we have a ‘back up’ plan that how we are going to survive? Given our vulnerable economy, surrounded on three sides by India with a pegged currency, what would our position be in the future if India and the US come to a common understanding regarding Nepal in relation to China? This has a possibility because of growing Indo-US ties.
In terms of Development model, we had supported Global Development Initiative (GDI)—Our development partners mostly represented by the west led by the US in which China has an opposing view. As per Aid Management System, over the last five-year period from fiscal year 2016/17 to 2020/21, total disbursement from the USAID to Nepal was USD 558.9 million. Next to this, USAID is working with local government of Nepal in very remote areas serving vulnerable population. Any decrease in aid disbursement by the US could impact the lives of the rural population. Though, China has supported UN 2030 goals, but for the Western development agencies, this could be the matter of ‘politicization’. What we can do if were asked to review the commitment made to the GDI in China by the Western development partners in Nepal. Because most of the largest donors in Nepal are from the West.
Taking all the above into account, this Joint Statement is ‘soft’ in terms of development and connectivity but has a ‘sharp edge’ in political standing. Though, it is also the matter of surprise that not a single project signed under BRI rather it was mentioned that the, “Commitment to accelerate the consultations to finalize the text on the BRI implementation Plan at an early date”. Similar to the MCC compact, whose ‘text’ was discussed from public drawing rooms to tea shops and ultimately in parliament. It should be anticipated that; similar kinds of wider public discussion can be seen with regards to the ‘text’ of the BRI. But given that, the modus operandi of the Chinese development project, the chances of such open public consultations will be limited.
At last, we are continuously going towards condition where supporting one issues is hampering the interest of other. In these hyper volatile words, where friends and foes are not constant, norms and values of politics changes in no time, our leadership must be caution. These developments are leading towards the ‘forceful’ position of choosing sides between the Indo-American lobby and the Chinese lobby. This also raises question about Nepal’s long-standing policy of non-alignment, which is not supposed to be aligned with anyone’s political understanding. But in practice, we are violating this. Or this has rang the bell for reviewing our foreign policy. Let’s brainstorm.
- The views reflected in this article by the author doesn’t replicate the position of the organization with which author is associated.