Why is Nepal sticking up for Venezuela’s Maduro?
Nepal has waded into the political crisis underway in Venezuela by supporting Nicolas Maduro as president of the Bolivarian Republic. Chairman of the ruling Nepal Communist Party Pushpa Kamal Dahal, commonly known as Prachanda, issued a press statement last week condemning the United States for backing Juan Guiado as acting president. The statement accused Washington of attempting an “imperialist coup” in Venezuela.
Prachanda had a history of criticizing the United States but this is the first time Nepal’s political establishment has released a controversial statement about a hot topic in international relations halfway around the world.
Nepal’s foreign ministry also issued a statement implying support for Maduro, although the language here was much more measured: “Nepal believes that internal political problems of a country need to be resolved within its constitutional parameters in a democratic manner, free from external interferences.”
The diplomatic relations between Nepal and Venezuela are only in name as the two countries are thousands of miles away. However, Kathmandu’s support for Maduro could jeopardize Nepal’s relations with the United States. That relationship, which started since April 25, 1947, is even older than the diplomatic ties Nepal has with its two neighbors namely, the Republic of India (since June 13, 1947), and the People’s Republic of China (since August 1, 1955).
Nepal has long had close ties with the United States, even receiving assistance from Washington during the period when India had close relations with the Soviet Union. The power paradigm shifted after the Soviet Union collapsed and India came closer to the United States. The rise of China has also changed the power politics of the region. China supplied weapons to Nepal in 1989, for which Nepal had suffered economic sanctions from India. However, Nepal grew closer to China with every act of Indian aggression creating mistrust of Nepali people against the Indian government.
In the 2017 election, the Nepal Communist Party – formed after the fact through a merger of two separate communist parties — won a full-fledged majority in the House of Representatives. The Nepali Congress, which has stronger ties to India, won just 35 percent of total seats. To many observers, this was a sign that Nepal was turning toward China. This was reaffirmed when Nepal refused to participate in a military drill by BIMSTEC countries, which was organized by India, but continued to participate in a military drill with China.
The United States has been wary about China’s recent growth. Many writers and scholars assumed that meeting of Nepali Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last December was an effort by the United States to keep Nepal inside the U.S. camp and away from China. At the meeting, Pompeo pledged support in form of Millennium Challenge Corporation.
Nepal has long criticized the United States for looking at Nepal through the lens of India, which U.S. officials deny. However, it is certain the United States has far deeper ties with New Delhi than Kathmandu. India would also likely prioritize the United States over Nepal – and India itself is infuriated with Nepal for its growing ties with China. In reality, India and the United States are focused on dealing with the threat from China, Nepal may be seen as a tiny pawn in the process.
If there was an effort by the United States to keep Nepal on its side, this may have failed with the Nepali government releasing an official statement against the United States and siding with Maduro.
Prachanda’s statement has shocked some Nepalis while others received it as a pleasant surprise. The opposition Nepali Congress called his statement “immature” and reaffirmed the United States’ importance to Nepal. Meanwhile, the U.S. signaled its displeasure, calling Nepal’s ambassador in Washington, D.C. for an explanation of Prachanda’s statement on Maduro. The U.S. ambassador in Nepal also did not attend a Nepali government briefing to the diplomatic community.
So why would Nepal side with Maduro, and risk its relationship with the United States? There have been reports that Venezuela lobbied hard for Nepal’s support, but it seems unlikely that Caracas has much interest in Nepal’s stance – or that Kathmandu would risk its U.S. relationship for Venezuela’s sake. Instead, the final piece of the puzzle is the close relationship between China and Venezuela – or specifically, China and Maduro’s government.
Venezuela is arguably an important card in global politics. It is geographically close to the United States and sits upon the largest proven oil reserves in the world. With a more friendly government, Venezuela could become the United States’ largest oil supplier and controlling it would change the world’s political and economic dynamics.
Meanwhile, China is a supporter of the Maduro government and the second largest trading partner of Venezuela. The U.S. sanctions on Venezuela are set to turn China into Venezuela’s largest trading partner. The present crisis could benefit China as Maduro would become more dependent on Russia and China for its regime survival; further, Venezuela will continue to accumulate Chinese debt.
Nepal’s support for Maduro may distance Kathmandu from the United States and bring Nepal closer to China. However, the future of their diplomatic relations will depend on how the United States handles these issues.
Originally published on The Diplomat on 7 February 2019
Published on Lokantar on the same date