US can’t undermine regional interconnection with an aid project to Nepal
Published: Nov 23, 2021 07:59 PM
US can't undermine regional interconnection with an aid project to Nepal. Illustration: Tang Tengfei/GT

US can't undermine regional interconnection with an aid project to Nepal. Illustration: Tang Tengfei/GT

Visiting US officials recently urged Kathmandu to ratify a $500 million grant aid agreement, which has been repeatedly postponed due to strong opposition in Nepal. US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu and US deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs Kelly Kidderling both arrived in Nepal last week to persuade top leaders of Nepal to ratify the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact Agreement.

The MCC pact was signed by the Nepal government and US foreign assistance agency in 2017. The US plans to provide $500 million to promote Nepal's infrastructure projects construction and road maintenance. Yet, just couple of weeks before the US officials visit to Kathmandu, the country's parliament once again postponed ratification process.

Why has the South Asian country repeatedly put off a pact which appears to deliver a raft of US benefits to aid local development? It's because the political strings the US government attached with the aid has caused strong opposition and sharp opinion division in Nepal.

The section 7.1 of the agreement reads that "the parties understand that this compact, upon entry into force, will prevail over the domestic laws of Nepal," which means that MCC agreement is above Nepal's domestic law, and, that seriously infringes upon the land-locked country's sovereignty. It's not a surprise to see why the pact has stirred up such a strong backlash in Nepal.

When the US officials first pitched the plan to Kathmandu, they even didn't bother to try to hide their geopolitical calculations. Senior US officials visiting Nepal made it clear that the MCC agreement was part of the US' Indo-Pacific strategy aimed at containing China, which has triggered strong division within Nepal.

Whether the $500 million aid project can be implemented or not, only if it is pushed with the purpose of helping developing countries eradicate poverty, it is acceptable. However, the US obviously doesn't respect Nepal's sovereignty. Washington aspires to use the aid plan as a tool to counter the influence of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Many observers familiar with Nepal's domestic politics say that the MCC deal, though characterized by a high degree of political interference, is likely to be adopted by the country's parliament.

And, even if Nepal parliament ratifies the pact, it doesn't mean the South Asian country will join the US' campaign to undermine regional interconnectivity. Nepal's neutrality can actually help it gain benefits from different parties. It is widely expected that Nepal will continue to be neutral and will not agree to consent to playing Washington's geopolitical games, the observers say.

Since the previous Donald Trump administration came into power, the US has been trying all means to recruit more Asian countries into its Indo-Pacific strategy to contain China's rise. And it is natural and also inevitable that there will be a few pro-US politicians and some anti-China murmurs in the media in Nepal. 

However, over these years, the ties between China and Nepal have become closer and stronger, which fits with Nepal's own national interests and economic development. 

After officially joining the BRI in 2017, Nepal's economy has obtained actual benefits delivered by the framework. If the US insists on undermining this established cooperation framework with a $500 million aid project, it is doomed to failure. China will certainly be more proactive in advancing the BRI to Nepal and other countries. 

If the US truly wants to help Nepal to develop, instead of using the MCC agreement to control Nepal and force Kathmandu to confront China, Washington should take Nepal's concerns into consideration, make necessary changes to the agreement, and let the aid project be integrated into the overall architecture of regional interconnection.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.