August Analysis: International Relations and Foreign Affairs

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The newly formed coalition government in Nepal led by Sher Bahadur Deuba divulged the Common Minimum Program (CMP) also on August. The General Secretary of Nepali Congress led the team to draft the CMP. The CMP includes the areas in which the government envisions to focus, such as fostering national interest, enforcing rule of law, reinforcing federal democratic system, implementing federalism, ensuring good governance, strengthening foreign policy, and so on. However, CMP has not incorporated Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The ruling alliance fails to form a consensus regarding MCC.

Nepal’s New Government and unfolding new foreign policy

Table: Timeline of Vaccines Procured in August

DateEvents
August 7513,420 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine received from Japan
August 8333,900 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine received from Japan
August 21208,060 doses AstraZeneca vaccine received from Japan
August 22The Ministry of Health and Population is holding talks with the Asian Development Bank to secure funds to purchase 6 million doses of Vero Cell vaccines from China, additionally. China has agreed to provide 1.6 million doses as a grant, which is yet to be delivered.
August 23559,360 doses AstraZeneca vaccine received from Japan
August 26The UK as part of direct bilateral support provided 130,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Nepal

The newly formed coalition government led by Prime Minister (PM) Sher Bahadur Deuba unveiled the Common Minimum Program (CMP) on August 8. The CMP – drafted by a team led by the General Secretary of Nepali Congress – includes the areas in which the government envisions to focus: such as fostering national interest, enforcing rule of law, reinforcing federal democratic system, implementing federalism, ensuring good governance, strengthening foreign policy, and so on. CMP also delves into efficacious enforcement of water resource policy wherein it refers to bilateral and multilateral usage of water resources in the national interest. Moreover, the mobilization of foreign aid will be through the budgetary system in the national priority in building physical infrastructure under CMP.

However, CMP has not incorporated Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The ruling alliance fails to form a consensus regarding the MCC. The Maoist constituent and CPN (Unified Socialist) of the ruling alliance has been against the endorsement of MCC without its revision, while the Nepali Congress has been in favor of its parliamentary ratification. Meanwhile, the US has been constantly pushing for MCC’s parliamentary endorsement. Fatema Z. Sumar, vice president of the Department of Compact Operations of MCC is visiting Nepal on September 9 to gauge the progress of the project. However, the possibility of the endorsement of MCC has triggered China. The Chinese discontentment regarding the likelihood of Nepal endorsing MCC is amply visible in Chinese media and social media platforms.

Furthermore, CMP aims to peacefully resolve the border row with India through diplomatic channels. CMP, specifically, talks about border issues with India (Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiadhura). It has nonetheless omitted to address the border with China, particularly in Humla. The senior Congress leaders have expressed concerns over the omission of the border dispute with China in the meeting with the PM. The PM had assured to form a high-level task force by the cabinet to study this matter. The left parties have objected the formation of the taskforce to study possible border dispute between Nepal and China. This is an appreciable initiative taken by the government to study the northern border. However, the government should handle the situation diplomatically so as to minimize tension between the two countries. Treaties and border protocols signed between the two countries and the clauses of these protocols need to be complied with while studying the border.

India’s Sashatra Seema Bal (SSB) reportedly demolished an improvised cable crossing, which led to a Nepali national to go missing. The Government of Nepal did not give a strong reaction regarding the case. The Ministry of Home Affairs rather admonished everyone to tread cautiously vis-à-vis the case, as it is a geopolitically sensitive issue. However, the spokesperson of CPN-Maoist Centre Narayan Kaji Shrestha broached up the Tuin incident in the parliament and urged the Indian government to apologize immediately for the actions of the SSB. India refuted Nepal’s claim regarding the incident and has been uncooperative in probing the matter from their end. Contrastingly, the media reports based on eyewitness claim that SSB was involved in untangling the Tuin. The probe team finally submitted the report regarding the incident to the government. The report has recommended holding the accused accountable. However, the government has been reluctant to take a stance and disclose the report to refrain from riling India.

In assessing the new government ‘s foreign policy and its actions, it appears that the government wants to remain neutral and not take any major decisions concerning foreign policy. The exclusion of the MCC and China border issue in the CMP and the silence on the Tuin incident indicate that Deuba’s coalition government wants to remain in the good books of both China and India. However, while balancing India and China, the government has left the US concerns unaddressed.

New Government’s Relationship with China

The current government has strived to maintain a good relation with China. The government seems to understand that balancing both China and India are crucial for Nepal. The Nepali envoy to China has stated that there will not be any alteration in Nepal’s One-China policy under Deuba’s leadership. He also opined that China and Nepal’s relationship is premised on ‘mutual respect, mutual benefit and a good understanding of each other.’

Further, the Deuba government also aims to accelerate the sluggishly progressing project under BRI. As per several government officials, Nepal and China are in the phase of exchanging draft implementation plans which is the pre-requisite for project selection, budget, mode of funding, and human resource management. Negotiation and execution of the projects are anticipated to start soon. The new government is looking to begin at least two projects under BRI this year.

New Government’s Relationship with India

After the turbulence caused by the border dispute in the Indo-Nepal relationship, both countries are now putting efforts to mend their relationship. The new government has also adopted the ‘Neighborhood First’ policy. The former minister of State for finance and a member of the Nepali Congress stated that China cannot replace India’s special place as a neighbor. Moreover, India’s ruling party’s (BJP) Foreign Affairs Department Chief Vijay Chauthaiwale visited Prime Minister and other political leaders including K.P. Sharma Oli, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, and Mahant Thakur intending to strengthen ties with Nepali political parties. Further, BJP’s spokesperson stated that Nepal holds strategic importance to India and India is committed to strengthening bilateral relations with Kathmandu.

Minister of State for Health, Umesh Shrestha and Indian Ambassador to Nepal, Vinay Mohan Kwatra attending the Oxygen Plant Handover Ceremony for B.P. Koirala Institute of Health Sciences, Lahan. Photo: RSS

Nepal Jammed in Geopolitics

Since Nepal is economically dependent on the emerging powers of the world, having geopolitical implications is almost inevitable. Recently, Nepal is wedged in virus geopolitics: the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu stated that over 80 countries, including Nepal, have objected to the attempts to politicize the origin of the virus and call for the Joint Report by the WHO-China joint study team to be enforced. China has been exerting pressure on Nepal to take a stance and put Nepal in a difficult position. Nepal maintains a good relationship with both the US and China. Given the COVID-19 crisis, it needs support from both countries and cannot afford to take sides. Nepal has not formed an official position yet in this regard. Analysts say that Nepal should take up non-aligned foreign policy and remain far from the geopolitical rivalry.

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