April Analysis: Nepal’s Endeavors to Bolster Foreign Relations

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1.1 Table: Major events vis-à-vis foreign relation in April, 2021

DateMajor Events
April 11Former King Gyanendra visited Uttarakhand to participate in Kumbh Mela
April 13Israeli Embassy donated medical equipment to Nepal Nepal absent in Raisina Dialogue held in New Delhi
April 14Envoy Mahendra Bahadur Pandey presented letter of credence to Chinese President
April 17PM held all party meeting to decide on MCC; Nepali Congress gave positive response; House Speaker accused of delaying MCC ratification
April 20China excluded Nepal from participating in BOAO annual conference
April 24Nepal sought assistance from India for oxygen, anti-viral drugs, and ICU units.
April 27  China held a video conference meeting with its South Asian counterparts to jointly tackle Covid-19. China announced to provide RS. 1 billion worth health assistance to Nepal.

There has been a major geopolitical shift owing to COVID-19. Several states have come together to jointly tackle the COVID-19 catastrophe. This is an opportunity for Nepal to strengthen its diplomatic ties with various states. On April 13 Israeli Embassy donated ABG machine and patient monitors to National Trauma Centre to fight against Covid-19 and to provide other health services. The Israeli embassy issued a press statement expressing that it was looking ahead to extending future cooperation with Nepal and maintaining the 60-year-old friendly relationship.

Nevertheless, Nepal’s muddled up internal politics has failed to best utilise this opportunity. Further, PM Khadga Prasad Oli has been vehemently striving to ratify Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) amidst the unstable political situation. The PM called for an all-party meeting on April 17 to take decisions with regard to election, Covid crisis management and MCC, wherein he accused the House Speaker Agni Sapkota for deferring to place MCC before the Parliament. The Minister of foreign affairs speaking in favour of endorsement of MCC stated that MCC has been shelved for 3 years and it should be placed before the parliament at the earliest. Furthermore, the leader of Nepali Congress (Opposition Party) Sher Bahadur Deuba has raised no objection and rather is in support of endorsing MCC. The ratification of MCC could perhaps please the US; however this would likely upset already displeased China. Thus, in the geopolitical milieu, Nepal finds itself in a deadlock between the two world powers, China and USA.

1.2  Nepal’s exclusion from international sphere

The strategic manoeuvres of the powerful states are fairly visible through diplomatic isolation of Nepal. The exclusion of Nepal from BOAO annual conference by China held, the Climate Summit by the US and Raisina Dialogue in India is a subtle demonstration of power play. Moreover, Nepal’s exclusion has also posed a question on seriousness of Oli government with regard to foreign policy. PM Oli has not held strong stance towards either of his counterparts. While he is sometimes more inclined towards India, other times, he seems to be friendlier with China. This erratic diplomatic handling poses serious question in PM Oli’s credibility towards Nepal’s neighbours and allies.

China appears to have lost confidence in the Oli government in meeting its strategic interest. Likewise, the US seems to be antagonized by the way Nepal is handling MCC. Therefore, despite being an obvious participant in all three conferences held by China, the US and India, Nepal did not receive any invitation.

1.3  China’s Interest amid the pandemic

While the entire world is fighting against COVID-19 pandemic, China has different plans for itself. China is aiming to create space in South Asian region with facade of being altruistic. Chinese Foreign Minister held a meeting with his counterparts from Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bangladesh on April 27 to discuss, economic revival post- pandemic, COVID- 19 related issues and its management. In the absence of India, which is the biggest hurdle for China in connecting to South Asia, it has become easier for China to create influence in South Asian nations.

Further, China portraying itself as a good neighbour has agreed to provide health equipment worth NRS 1 billion to Nepal which includes 20,000 oxygen cylinders as well. It has increased the doses of vaccine from 500,000 to 800,000 doses as well. Chinese Ambassador to Nepal has also assured Nepal that China has prioritized Nepal in providing assistance including vaccines, in bolstering Nepal-China relations. At the same time, the unofficial border seal by China, since January 20 has taken a toll on Nepali entrepreneurs and the economy of the country. This makes it apparent that China is merely furthering its own interest of being a leader of Asia and subsequently the world.

1.4  Nepal’s hefty reliance on India

Vaccine diplomacy for India perhaps turned out to be counterproductive. India failed to keep its commitment of providing vaccines even after receiving the payment. It itself is struggling to fight against the pandemic with rapidly surging cases. Amidst the deepening crisis, Nepal blatantly seeking assistance from India to provide oxygen, anti-viral drugs and ICU beds has come off as diplomatically insensitive.

The visit of former king Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah to Haridwar to partake in Kumbh Mela on April 11 could fuel Hindu nationalism among the Hindu nationalists in Nepal. This could possibly be a matter of interest for the ruling party of India as it also propagates Hindutva. The former King’s action may not have major significance in geopolitics but it certainly cannot be overlooked. Furthermore, over 100 people came to the airport to receive the King, which on hindsight, can be attributed to increased cases in the valley.

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