Three powerful Nepali leaders, two of them with communist leanings, have diversified trade and transit in response to India’s behaviour. There is a strategic question that now needs an answer: Will China meet India in Kathmandu? writes Binoj Basnyat for South Asia Monitor
Maj Gen Binoj Basnyat (Retd.)
The two Left parties of Nepal, the UML and the Maoists, collaborated in the first election after the promulgation of the 2015 Constitution and have united to become the Nepal Communist Party. They are in government together with the Federal Socialist Forum of Nepal, a Madhes-based party, and have a two-thirds majority in parliament.
India’s overt posturing and expression of differences of opinion over the Constitution and the unofficial blockade by New Delhi persuaded the Left parties to cooperate in the election and unite with a new nationalist slogan, which appealed to the aspiration of the people, giving the left parties a huge election victory.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated then Prime Minister-elect Khadga Prasad Oli and invited him to come to Delhi before forming the government. This may have been a political and diplomatic confession. Modi’s visit to Nepal and Oli’s visit first to India before China indicated the importance of both rising powers for Nepal.
In the strategic context, China is gaining ground in nations that border India by not interfering with their integrity, sovereignty and economic activities and by reinstating the ‘One China’ policy while enlarging their economies.
Oli’s visit to China in June came after the Modi-Xi Jinping informal summit in Wuhan where the two leaders appeared to have come up with a different modus vivendi in the South Asian region. US President Donald Trump’s approach in the Indo-Pacific region and his South Asia policy is bringing India and China to arrive at a common understanding.
Oli is focusing on his electoral plank of development with Nepal diversifying its dependencies on trade and transit, creating favourable conditions for foreign direct investments, restructuring internal organizations, addressing governance, and identifying foreign policy priorities. Oli’s visits to both India and China and signing 12 MOUs and 7 agreements with India on April 7, while signing 14 MOUs and 9 agreements with China on June 22 is a leap forward. The strategic change is that geopolitics is shifting in the South Asian region.
There are four categories of influences over Nepal - Western, Indian, Chinese and a group of other nation states. Rapid economic growth and ways for Nepal to find its own way to break traditional linkages have challenges and vulnerabilities ahead. Kathmandu must address the issue of political, economic and security assertiveness, while building strategic communications networks from north to south, bringing China and India closer.
Three powerful Nepali leaders, two of them with communist leanings, have diversified trade and transit in response to India’s behaviour. There is a strategic question that now needs an answer: Will China meet India in Kathmandu?
The agreements signed focus mainly on seven categories; on strategic communication connectivity, with railways and waterways; energy with hydro projects; power trade; infrastructure development; agriculture; political and diplomatic gestures, and security concerns bringing national instability vulnerabilities.
The forthcoming risks from the international and domestic arena for stability and national security persist as there are many events, proceedings and dealings, some apparent and others concealed and undetected, that could lead to volatility, and uncertainty.
India’s critical views on Nepal’s 2015 promulgation of the Constitution created an undesired ambience, which made the Nepalese suspicious about the traditional approach by India. The unofficial blockade was a strategic blunder and catalysed the general people’s doubts about India.
Though Oli’s visit to China is being termed a great success, Nepal now will be stuck with addressing the geostrategic issues with both China and India. The Eminent Persons Group is a correct platform to build linkages of democratic practices, economic connectivity and security concerns as geopolitical shifts occur and the state of affairs alter.
(The author is a retired Nepali Army major general and a political and security analyst. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)