Friday, March 1, 2024

Foreign interest in Nepal: Why is there a flurry of diplomatic visits?


After the last federal and provincial elections held on November 4, CPN Maoist Centre Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal broke away from the Left-Democratic Alliance and cooperated with the CPN-UML.

Camaraderie between Dahal and UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli led to the discussion that the country will get a strong government. Dahal, who has performed poorly in the past, garnered the highest numbers of votes of confidence for the prime minister of Nepal. However, Dahal's party is facing an existential crisis in Nepali politics. This situation has proved that future politics of Nepal is doomed.

There is no question that a country like Nepal, which is facing economic crisis, can be immune to geopolitical influences. Soon after Dahal became the prime minister, diplomatic visits to Kathmandu have gained momentum. In this article, the scribe tries to discuss about the diplomatic visits from the US, China and India.

Strategic 'land power'

Few months ago, on the occasion of the centennial celebration China's ruling Communist Party, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned that any power that tries to threaten China would be bloodied. He was hinting at the western powers, especially the United States. China is about to establish itself as the supreme power of the world while the US is trying to contain China's rise.

Nepal, due to its sensitive geographical location, cannot keep itself immune from the effects of the frictions appearing in the balance of world power. Since the emergence of communist parties in Nepal, the US's interests came to evolve accordingly. Madhuraman Acharya, who served the nation as a diplomat for a long time, has given a serious assessment of Nepal's geopolitics in his book Nepal World View. He has depicted the US watching the growing communist movement in Nepal in the 1980s with alarm. Also, during the Cold War, the United States included Nepal in the list of countries that it gave special attention to. According to Acharya, until the 1970s, the main interest of the US in Nepal was to monitor Chinese and Tibetan refugees. It seems that the US and China have turned Nepal into a diplomatic playground. China's 'One China policy' states that the US has been treating the Tibetan refugees in Nepal as a human rights issue.

Last year US Army Pacific Commander Charles A. Flynn told that Nepal is a 'land power'. Few days ago, when Samantha Power, head of the United States Assistance Mission (USAID) was visiting Nepal, she said that US assistance is not a product of geopolitical dimensions. When viewed from the US's lens, Nepal's geopolitical location in between India and China merits the constant engagement with Nepal. Through USAID, Power has announced a contribution of seven billion rupees to strengthen areas such as independent civil society and communication/media, public financial management, democratic processes and institutions, and rule of law. She also said that Nepal will provide more support in the future to strengthen Nepal's democratic achievements.

Comparative understanding     

Indian Foreign Secretary (FS) Vinay Mohan Kwatra has returned after his two-day visit to Nepal last week. Kwatra had served as Ambassador of India to Nepal in the recent past. FS Kwatra held a courtesy meeting with the President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba and CPN-UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli. Kwatra's visit was a continuation of high-level meetings between the two countries.

Nepal and India are discussing the progress achieved under energy cooperation. Since last year Nepal has been able to export 452.6 megawatts of electricity to India. In order to expand it in the long term, it is necessary to observe how successful Nepal will be. Likewise, it has been agreed that the necessary procedural work to advance the proposed Raxaul-Kathmandu Railway project by expanding it further will be carried out rapidly. Also, Kwatra has invited Nepal to participate in the G-20 Finance Track, which is scheduled to be held under the chairmanship of India this year.

The prevailing narrative that India micromanages Nepal's internal politics seems to have given way to the role being played by China and the US. 

Few diplomatic commentators see India's political interest in Kwatra's visit. Due to the growing diplomatic interests of the US and China in Nepal, India's influence appears to be on the wane. The prevailing narrative that India micromanages Nepal's internal politics seems to have given way to the role being played by China and the US. 

Northern noise

China's cheerfulness was notable after PM Dahal took oath of office. On the PM Dahal inaugurated the Pokhara International Airport, Beijing issued a statement that the airport is an integral part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In Nepal, Beijing's statement was widely criticized. Happy to see Maoists and UML coming together, China immediately opened up the border which was closed in the pretext of Covid. Chinese experts have come to Nepal and returned after studying irrelevant trains. China has started increasing pressure on Nepal to advance its security-strategic program Global Security Initiative (GSI).

If China and the US have been looking at Nepal from a security point of view, we can understand how serious and careful India will be in terms of its own security. China is measuring the weight of US and Indian representatives' visit to Nepal. It is certain to send representative(s) to visit Nepal in the near future.

We will have to wait until the presidential election to be held next month to understand the impact of the diplomatic visits to Kathmandu. Will Nepal allow the US and China to use its territory as an avenue of great power competition? Or will Nepal continue its long journey of peace and prosperity by determining its own diplomatic priorities?

Twitter: @randhirJNK

Published on 19 February 2023