Interview

Unlike in the past we have broadened our foreign relations: Foreign Minister

Pradeep-Gyawali

KP Sharma Oli-led government has completed its nine months. The government has claimed to have made positive developments at many fronts including in foreign affairs. Bimal Gautam and Sushil Pant from Lokantar caught up with Pradeep Gyawali, Minister, Foreign Affairs, to talk about foreign policies of the government and other related issues. Excerpts:

There have been comments that Nepal has given importance only to neighbouring countries and this has narrowed country’s foreign policy.

This comment is partially true. Due to political instability in the past, foreign policy could not get a positive direction. We are serious in overcoming it. We have been able to bring wayward foreign policy into track.

I have been telling that our foreign policy consists of four aspects. The first one is neighbourhood. Neighbours naturally get first priority. Second, our development partners like European countries, the US, Japan and so on. Third, labour destination countries where 3 million youths work. Their safety and dignity is in our foremost interest. Fourth, United Nations and multilateral regional organisations.

We have paid due attention to all these four dimensions. The PM is about to visit our development partner countries after successful completion of both the neighbouring countries. He will attend programmes in international forums. For example, he will attend Word Economic Forum.

I have visited Europe two times and Japan once. At the sidelines of the UN Assembly, I have talked with important officers in the US. We have been planning to form a bilateral consultation mechanism with the US at the foreign minister level.

So, rather than limiting ourselves to neighbours we have broadened our foreign relations.
We talk about balance in foreign policy but it is seen that top leadership of our southern neighbour has visited Nepal many times while no top leader from our northern neighbor has arrived so far.

Nepalis are concerned about it. PM Oli during his visit to China has invited both the Chinese President and the Premier to visit Nepal. I want to quote President Xi Jingping here. He said, “Nepal is in the journey of stability and prosperity. This is an appropriate time to visit Nepal. I will be there on an opportune moment.” I am confident that top Chinese leadership will come to Nepal on an appropriate occasion.

Both China and India have shown interest in bringing railway line to Nepal. Is it their goodwill or a strategy to stop one another’s influence?

It involves both aspects. But goodwill triumphs all other things. You should understand that railway project is Nepal’s proposal rather than a necessity for China or India. Nepal needs railways to join the world economy and be in tune with the rapid development the world has been witnessing.

We are happy that both our neighbours are positive on this project. Both the neighbours have signed memorandum of understanding with us on the issue of Keyrong-Kathmandu, Kathmandu-Lumbini and Raxaul-Kathmandu railway lines.

Both the countries have been carrying out feasibility studies. China has completed the study while India is still in the process. As soon as the feasibility study completes, we will prepare DPR and construction work will commence.

I think six or seven years after the DPR we will be connected with two of the biggest countries and rapidly developing economies through railways. Nepal will transform herself into a land-linked country from a landlocked country.

Both our neighbours may have their own interests in the project. China naturally wants to be connected with India’s big market and vice versa. Nepal can provide a good transit point for them. But I reiterate, this railways project is basically a part of Nepal’s development plan.

Why is SAARC stalled? Who hindered Nepal to transfer chair to Pakistan?

It is an unfortunate development. SAARC is a common forum for around 1 billion 800 million people in South Asia. It should function at any cost. Nepal always supports active and impactful SAARC.

There are disputes between countries but those discords should not obstruct any regional and international cooperation. SAARC is under the shadow of two big countries. Nepal has been continuously striving to bring SAARC out of the shadow and to build an environment of trust. We are not seeking any alternatives to SAARC. Maybe this regional organization is waiting for a favourable time to bounce back. All member states have the responsibility to vitalize it and Nepal has been doing her best on this.

It has been heard that India has refused to accept the report presented by Eminent Persons’ Group. Why could not the report be submitted?

India has formally replied that the PM is busy. That may be a reason for delay in accepting the report. The definition of Nepal-India relations will change after both the governments take ownership of the report and start implementing it. Multiple changes in the legacy bestowed by history to both the countries will change. Even if the countries are mismatched in geographical and population size, both will go ahead in the spirit of cooperation as sovereign countries with equal status.

We have cleared all doubts regarding the report with India’s Foreign Minister. Some sections of the society do not want to see the ties going forward in a positive direction and they might have wrongly briefed her about the report. But I am confident that all the obstacles will be overcome. Both the premiers have initiated this process and they want to see it arriving at a logical conclusion. I reiterate – EPG report and its implementation will bring about a huge change in ties. It will be a change for good.

Read the full interview in Nepali here.

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