The current Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) debate in Nepal to approve MCC grant by parliament is the talk of the town. There are several narrations building by noted intellectuals against and for MCC — From the fabric conspiracy theories like the US will build its military stations including a missile system in Nepal or the country is being sold to the US for just $500 million. Pro-MCC supporters are claiming that, it is the largest amount ever granted to Nepal by the US and avoiding this grant could be accidental.
Underlining the MCC compact agreement; few articles are interesting to observe. For example, MCC compact agreement has 2 major objectives. The first objective stressed the MCC role to facilitate power trade and increase electricity consumption in Nepal whereas the second objective stressed, improving road quality across the strategic road network. Here, both objectives are “open” and underneath shows interest in working in overall Nepal’s jurisdiction.
But, the MCC project has already prescribed project sites. So, technically its objective and working area won’t tally with each other. As India is the greatest potential buyer of Nepal’s electricity; this agreement shows American involvement in Nepal’s power trading with India. The proposed transmission line seems on the way where China had showed interest in rail network. The word “Strategic” road network in Nepal is always related to India & China. Whether it is Biratnagar- Kimathanka, Kerung-Kathmandu-Pokhara-Lumbini or Raxaul-Kathmandu—All these road network involves geopolitics. If putting MCC on this affairs; there may involvement of the US along with India & China in Nepal’s affairs.
Agreements like MCC is a representative character; which will become normal in coming days in Nepal. It is always hard to disaggregate development assistance likely free of geopolitical elements for the country like Nepal. Even UK PM is planning to merge DFID to Foreign Office of UK for the purpose to make it more UK vested interest driven. In MCC also, the US vested interest is clearly seen. But it is normal in global politics. The one who donates see their national interest first. This is even precarious at a time when the US has openly mentioned that, China, Russia & North Korea are its core enemy in its June 2019 Pentagon’s report leading to the massive Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) expansion by the US. In counter, Chinese Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) is coming to play.
Great Power competition in Nepal appears in the forms of ‘soft and sugary’ coating like assistance. The current world order is the product of the WWII victors. With advancements of the tech boom & globalization; Western centrism is now countered by several Asian tigers. This is now a phase of transition– whether to accept great power shift or to resist it. BRI was initially targeted for infrastructure building but after IPS expansion; BRI has changed its course and aiming for resisting IPS.
Both IPS & BRI are “playing a jazz” in Nepal’s political field. Nepal is $30 billion economy and China’s $14 trillion economy and the US’s $21 trillion economy can easily lure Nepal. That is why, both power centers have started bottom to up diplomatic exercise influencing everyone from public to intellectuals and to the political leaders. Both power centers have streamlined their public diplomacy aiming to be popular in Nepali public by celebrating as ‘Nepaliway’ and Twitter diplomacy. Shall we have to receive the foreign development cooperation or not? The answers can be debatable. Nepal had even received development aid during Cold War when both the US & the then Soviet Union has heightened rivalries. So, we need to have ‘Better Converging Vision’ to make this development cooperation able to fulfill our national interest and development gaps. In addition to this, Nepali experts and political leaders should have open and frank conversation with the US representatives to make MCC cooperation working for both. Such types of bilateral cooperation requires win-win approach not a zero sum game.
In conclusion, how to survive in this great power rivalries? The solution can be many more. But for now (but not limited to) and analyzing the current situation; we need to transform Nepal’s Foreign Ministry to be the most powerful institution in Nepal. This reformed Foreign Ministry will oversee Nepal’s foreign affairs without any influence of politics or change of government. This will draft “Coping Strategy” to cope against geopolitical thunder strikes in Nepal by great powers. Nepal has survived till now not due to any other factors( like Military or Economic) but because of our great rulers and leader’s (Prithvi Narayan Shah, Bahadur Shah, Jung Bahadur Rana, Chandra Shamsher, Late King Mahendra and B.P Koirala) intellect and wisdom including policy undertaken by them. So, reforming Nepal’s Foreign Ministry as the powerful institution could able to draft a coping strategy to survive us in these great power competitions ultimately helping us to converge all development cooperation to fulfill our national interest & development needs.
- Saurav Raj Pant: International Relation Researcher/Development Consultant Columnist-Nepal Foreign Affairs, The Kathmandu Post, MA-Political Science, Founder/President-Garjan-Nepal Research Associate, Nepal Matters for America, Washington D.C