Nepal learns to strike a balance in ties with China and India to reap maximum benefit

By Kamal Dev Bhattarai Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/1 18:53:39

Nepal needs to handle its relations with the two Asian giants - China and India - in a prudent and pragmatic way to harness the immense potential of economic development. The new government in 2018 should continue the efforts Kathmandu made last year in this direction. The year 2017 saw many positive developments in bilateral, regional and multilateral forums.

Nepal has developed a degree of maturity in dealing with its immediate neighbors, slowly realizing the principle of balanced ties. Due to growing rivalry between India and China, Nepal's foreign policy needs a fine balancing, which we are learning to master.

On the Doklam issue that triggered a standoff between India and China, Nepal faced pressures to take a position like many other Asian countries.

Kathmandu maintained an independent policy by not taking sides. The country also fended off pressure to support India on the basis of some provisions of the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship.

The Belt and Road initiative is another case in point. Citing sovereignty and security related issues, India is pressing its immediate neighbors no to be part of the initiative. All South Asian countries except Bhutan have signed for China's signature initiative.

Then Nepalese prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal signed the Memorandum of Understanding on the framework agreement on the Belt and Road initiative with China on May 12. The next challenge for Nepal is to select and execute projects in an independent and prudent way.

Nepal has started taking independent decisions on international platforms, leading to enhanced international standing. It voted against American President Donald Trump's unilateral call to make Jerusalem Israel's capital despite warnings of cuts in development assistance.

In 2017, Nepal was elected to the powerful United Nations Human Rights Council for the term 2018-20. It will be serving in the capacity for the first time since UN's policy-making body was formed in 2006.

Despite some shortfalls, Nepal's foreign policy is heading in the right direction with a consensus developing among major parties. After the left alliance emerged victorious in the recently concluded general election, there is a new debate about Nepal's policy toward its two giant neighbors.

There is a perception that the government led by a left alliance will result in increased Chinese influence on Nepal. This may be true to some extent, but there are instances that show Nepal's foreign policy is gradually becoming resilient, and it is unlikely to change irrespective of the nature of the government that comes to power. Considering the fast-changing geopolitics of South Asia, we need to take mature steps to have cordial ties with both countries. Some attempts already in place need to be expedited.

To frame a foreign policy in keeping with the changing times, some institutional initiatives were taken in 2017. A high-level foreign policy review taskforce was set up under the chairmanship of the minister for foreign affairs in April. It was formed to suggest ways for our foreign policy to suit national interests. These are commendable initiatives keeping in mind the need to prepare a concrete policy toward India and China.

There has been some substantial engagement with India in 2017. Nepal-India Eminent Persons Group is working on how to review the 1950 agreement. The formation of the group has triggered a public discourse on redefining Nepal's ties in view of the deal. The exchange of high-level visits and expediting the implementation of joint economic projects are some achievements of 2107. A joint oversight mechanism is monitoring the status of development projects. Instead of launching new development projects, India seems keen to complete pending ones.

There has been regular exchange of visits between Nepal and China that deal with economic cooperation and connectivity. Areas of bilateral cooperation are expanding with the start of Nepal-China joint military exercises in 2017.

2018 must be the best year in the history of Nepal's foreign policy vis-a-vis our policy toward India and China. Nepal and India may come up with new proposals which need to be carefully examined.

The year will be a crucial one for Nepal's foreign policy. Both India and China will try to increase their influence on Nepal. India will struggle to retain its influence while China will work to further consolidate it.

Nepal's priority should be to maintain a balance to reap the maximum benefit for development. Fostering an environment of mutual trust with both countries is the key to achieving this.

The author is a Kathmandu-based writer who writes on geopolitical issues.


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