Caught between Indo-Pacific Strategy and BRI
Nepal is a tiny Himalayan nation situated between two Asian giants: China and India. The geo-strategic location of Nepal is very sensitive to China and India currently than in the past. The upcoming superpower China is leading the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project to drive her political and economic influence in the worldwide arena. The US, India, Australia and Japan are leading the Indo-Pacific strategic scheme to counter the Chinese BRI project.
BRI is a large scale project which will put the Asian region in the leading role through development and new idea of trade. Nepal is a BRI member. But Nepal is not a member in the Indo-Pacific project. In fact, it is impossible for Nepal to be a part of Indo-Pacific strategy either directly or indirectly in the near future.
The BRI is the biggest project of China to bring the power back into the hands of China. BRI is the signatory initiative dream of president Xi Jinping to flourish the Chinese model in the global surrounding and challenged the US international leadership while it came out.
The biggest reshuffling in the international system is the rise of China. While the Indo-Pacific Strategy advocates on the American alliance in terms of connectivity issue of land, ocean, and energy and cyber security, the reality is to restore the American policy and trace the China policy and their outlook in the international surrounding.
This is the right time for Nepal to seriously accelerate nation’s priorities. In the current situation, China has been closely monitoring Nepal’s foreign policy, political developments, situation, economic fluctuation and security policy by the perspective of BRI framework. Similarly, America and its allies also look at Nepali policies by the perspective of Indo-Pacific framework and its important geopolitical situation.
The involvement in BRI and Indo-Pacific Strategy is the major concerning agenda of Nepal’s current foreign policy and diplomacy.BRI is far more accepted by all political parties and civil society. But there is crucial debate and confusions about MCC projects in Nepal.
Around 65 countries and 40 international organizations have so far signed agreements with China under the BRI. The Chinese government has already started multi-billion-dollar connectivity projects under the BRI in different countries. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is one example. BRI provides enormous opportunities for the least developed countries to scale up their infrastructure stock and address the supply-side constraints to trade. This can supplement LDCs’ efforts towards graduating to the status of developing country and also support meeting the internationally agreed development goals (IADGs) including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
However, LDCs need to be cautious regarding the sustainability of debts and the commercial viability of the projects financed by such debts during project selection and planning. They should also be robust in their diplomatic efforts to negotiate their interests while making any deal under the BRI. LDCs also need to address their bottlenecks, including the problems of political instability, corruption and lack of absorptive capacity, to largely benefit from this China-led global initiative.
The BRI diversifies Nepal in terms of trade, connectivity (rail, road, transmission, and telecommunication) and access to the sea port. BRI as the mega project to link the whole world, appears as a beam of hope for the Nepali people. After releasing BRI concept the number of Chinese tourists raising each year in Nepal. This is the best time that Nepal should link their connectivity and economic empowerment link with the BRI. It makes a better relationship and correlation build up with upcoming superpower China. Nepal’s signing up to the BRI only means a framework agreement, which officials from both the countries know needs to be taken forward to get projects under the initiative rolling.
Although there has not been much progress in finalizing projects under China’s BRI, the growing clash between the United States and China in Nepal is palpable. But the big question is, will Nepal be able to strike a balance America, China and India, the big three major powers? This question will create more challenge in future than present. In present, Nepal needs huge resources to meet its aspirations of peace, development and prosperity. Despite efforts made by government, Nepal is failing to attract foreign investment and its development goals are under pressure. In balancing other country’s desires for military cooperation, Nepal has made it clear that it is ready for bilateral military drill with friendly countries, but it is not ready for regional military grouping.
The indo- Pacific Strategy was devised in 2006/07 to address the priorities brought about China’s emerging economic and military power. Amid consensus opinion about the eastward shift of economic gravity following the rise of China and India as global economic superpowers, the US has also readjusted its strategic focus on Asia and the Pacific region.
At last, MCC and BRI, there is yet another difficulty in setting Nepal’s foreign policy on the right track. On the base of public information Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Corridor agreement with China and what the potential sources of financing are scant at best. Analysts and national media are left on their own to speculate about the corridor, the specific projects, costs, and timelines involved. Any reservations, doubts and clarification on the MCC Nepal Compacted and IPS, Nepalese party should seek clarification and modification as required through negotiations and consultations with respective counterparts of MCC and IPS. In this part, Nepal government should unite all stakeholders and make a single national priority.
The writer is a journalist who writes on leftist politics and international relations.
Published on 23 February 2020