There is a huge potential of rapid economic development if Nepal handles its relation with two Asian giants in a proper, pragmatic and prudent manner. The year 2017 has shown some indications in this direction which must be continued by new government in 2018. 2017 turned to bean encouraging year of Nepal with many positive developments in bilateral, regional and multilateral forums.
Nepalhas built upa degree of maturity in dealing with our immediate neighbors which are a key foreign policy challenge. The principle of balanced relation with both neighbors is gradually and slowly being materialized. Due to growing rivalry between India and China, Nepal’s foreign policy needs a lot of fine balancing, and we are mastering to handle such complex issue.
When there was a standoff between India and China over Doklam issues, like other south Asian countries, Nepal faced pressures to take position. Nepal showed a maturity by not taking sides of both countries. There was veiled pressure from both India and China to take their sides on Doklam issue but Nepal maintained an independent\neutral policy which was widely appreciated and acknowledged. On the basis of some provisions of 1950 Peace and Friendship, Nepal was under pressure to take India’s side in Doklam dispute. Later, India and China diplomatically resolved their 70-day long standoff diplomatically.
Another instance is Belt and Road Initiatives (BRI), a centerpiece of China’s foreign policy. Citing some sovereignty and security related issues, India is pressing its immediate neighbors no to be a part of BRI projects. Despite India’s pressure, all south Asian countries except Bhutan have signed on BRI projects.Despite pressures from India, then Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal managed to sign BRI framework with China on May 12, few days ago Belt and Road Conference held in Beijing. The next challenge for Nepal is to select and execute projects under BRI in an independent and prudent way.
Not only with India and China, Nepal has started to take independent decisions in international platforms and its international stature is gradually increasing. Nepal voted against American President Donald Trump’s unilateral call to make Jerusalem despite warnings to cut development assistances. Nepal’s this policy is continuation of Nepal’s adherence to its policy of non-alignment.
In 2017, Nepal was elected to the powerful United Nations Human Rights Council for the term of 2018-2020. Nepal will be serving in that capacity for the first time since UN’s policy-making body was formed in 2006 which has substantially increased Nepal’s stature at international arena.
There were also some lapses on handling some regional issues which needs to be resolved in 2018. Saarc has been the victim of India-Pakistan rivalry and as chair Nepal did little to hold Saarc summit. As a chair of Saarc, we have to take decisive and bold steps to hold 19th Saarc summit. Nepal in the coming days will have to take active role to boost Saarc, BIMESTEC and Bhutan-Bangladesh-India-Nepal (BBIN) and other regional and sub-regional organizations.
When it comes to policy towards India and China there are some progress and some lapses. Chinese President Xi Jinping was supposed to visit Nepal in 2017 which was not materialized but Chinese side postponed visit citing lack of preparations on our side. Similarly, Indian President Narendra Modi was scheduled to visit in 2017 to inaugurate Arun-3 hydropower projects. The new government should seriously work for the visit of both Xi and Modi which will instrumental in Nepal quest for maintaining a balanced relation with both neighbors.
Despite some shortfall, foreign policy has heading towards position direction and there is a sort of consensus among major parties on it. After the victory of left alliance in Nepal in recently concluded general election, there is a new debate about Nepal’s policy towards two giant neighbors India and China.
There are perceptions that left alliance-led government will contribute to increase Chinese influence in Nepal. This may be partially true but some instances show Nepal is gradually becoming resilient in its foreign policy, and it is unlikely to be changed whichever party forms government in Kathmandu. Considering the fast-changing geopolitics of South Asia, we still need to take mature steps to make a cordial relation with both countries. Some attempts are already in place which needs to be expedited.
In order to prepare the foreign policy that would address the aspirations of changing times, some institutional initiatives were taken in 2017. High Level Foreign Policy Review Taskforce was set up under the chairmanship of the Minister for Foreign Affairs in April 2017. The taskforce was entrusted to recommend suggesting ways on how foreign policy could be adopted that suits our national interests. These are the good initiatives taken by the government to meet foreign policy challenges. The need of the hour is to prepare to concrete policy towards India and China.
There has been some substantial engagement with India in 2017. Nepal-India Eminent Persons Group has working on how to review 1950. The formation of EGP has triggered public discourse on redefining Nepal’s relation with 1950. The exchange of high-level visits and fast-tracking the implementation of joint economic projects are some the 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 development projects. Regarding China, there has been regular exchange of visits between two countries. Economic cooperation and connectivity remain the top agenda of bilateral visits between two countries. The areas of bilateral cooperation are expanding with beginning of Nepal-China joint military exercise in 2017. The visits of Chinese political leaders, government officials and academicians have substantially increased.
2018 must be a best a year in the history of Nepal’s foreign policy when it comes to our policy towards India and China. With increasing completion, Nepal-India may come up with new proposals which need to be carefully examined before taking any decisions. 2018 will be a crucial year for Nepal’s foreign policy. Both India and China will make efforts to increase their influence in Nepal. India will struggle to retain its influence in Nepal, while China is work to further consolidate its influence in Nepal. Nepal’s priority should to maintaining a balanced relationship with them to take maximum benefit from their economic development. Building a mutual trust has been a key factor in Nepal’s relation with New Delhi and Beijing.