November has been significant for Nepal in terms of its foreign relations. Four significant events set the core for the new trends in the future of Nepal’s bilateral relations with its neighbours and other superpowers—Joe Biden’s win at the US Presidential elections, Indian Army Chief Naravane’s visit, Indian Foreign Secretary Harshvardhan Shringla’s visit, and the Chinese Defence minister’s meeting. These trends will shape the Himalayan country’s geopolitical position. With Nepal-India warming up, their bilateral relationship to the Chinese Ambassador of Nepal Hou Yanqi meddling in internal party politics made headlines.
Crucial events for Nepal’s foreign diplomacy
The chief of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) Samant Kumar Goel met with PM Oli during his less than a day’s visit in October. This meeting raised eyebrows as it didn’t follow the diplomatic protocol and did not go well with the public. While few viewed this as a move to revive the soured bilateral ties, some criticised New Delhi’s decision to send the intelligence chief. Senior officials revealed that the visit might be a step to arrange for a high-level exchange after the Indian Army Chief’s ceremony in Nepal. However, the ruling NCP’s members were disgruntled with the unofficial visit as Bishnu Rijal, deputy chief of the foreign affairs department of the ruling party, added that ‘politicians should not overstep in matters related to diplomacy’.
In addition, the ceremonial visit of the Indian Army Chief Naravane was scheduled for the first week of November when internal ruling party issues in Nepal were intensifying. This was the first high-level visit since Nepal-India ties soured due to boundary dispute. However, the then Defence Minister Ishwor Pokharel was verbally critical of the Army Chief over his statement about Nepal ‘acting at the behest of someone else’, hinting at China; therefore, ahead of the visit, PM Oli assigned himself as the Defence Minister. This decision along with appointing other ministers upset the party chairperson Pushpa Kamal Dahal who later went on to call the decision a ‘unilateral move’.
Indian Army Chief’s visit was welcomed as it was one more step towards reviving the bilateral ties. However, a member of the task force, which was “formed by the government to prepare the position paper on how to deal with boundary issues with India” had objected to the visit. Questions about the visitor’s position were again raised as meeting with the Military chief will not resolve diplomatic issues. However, the Oli administration was optimistic about the visit. Rajan Bhattarai, the foreign relations advisor to the PM, shared that other India-Nepal engagements such as trade, commerce, business, transit and agriculture have been running smoothly. Indian Army Chief Naravane added that he was ‘delighted’ to visit Nepal.
Upon Naravane’s visit, he was bestowed with the highest honorary title by President Bidya Devi Bhandari, and he met with PM Oli on his last day of the visit. This was merely supposed to be a courtesy call, but ‘the elephant in the room couldn’t be ignored’. PM Oli brought up the border issue as he communicated Nepal’s stance on resolving the dispute. Everyone present in the meeting expressed willingness to resume high-level discussions. However, there was criticism around the intelligence and army’s chiefs visit to resolve boundary dispute; something that shouldn’t fall under their jurisdiction. Therefore, few expressed discontentment over the way Oli was conducting foreign policy and diplomacy.
During this visit, news about the probable visit of Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla had already started surfacing. These exchanges and initiatives were an indication towards warming Nepal-India relations which had soured for over a year.
Though an official statement about Harsh Vardhan’s visit hadn’t been made, sources close to the MoFa had shared the news with the media. The official announcement was made soon enough as both countries disclosed the primary agenda for the meeting—the ongoing boundary dispute. However, the visit will only be an introductory one around the border issue. This visit will also ‘pave the way’ for Pradeep Gyawali’s meeting in New Delhi for December 2020. Both the countries are planning to hold the sixth meeting of Nepal-India Joint Commission at the foreign minister level.
Researchers observed that India is continuously engaging with its neighbouring countries due to geopolitical reasons and fears that its neighbours will tilt towards China; therefore, it has been improving relations in the south Asian region.
Indian Foreign Secretary Shringla arrived in Kathmandu for a two-day visit on November 26. He met with high-level diplomats in the country including PM Oli. He further met with his Nepali counterpart Bharat Raj Paudyal to discuss various aspects of the bilateral relations. Both secretaries agreed on several initiatives and projects and decided to take it forward on mutual cooperation. However, the meeting failed to address the boundary issue. It was not on the official agenda due to the complications around it. The focus of the meeting was that both sides have agreed to restore friendly relations. Shringla added that Nepal and other neighbours of India are unspoken “priorities” of India to make the vaccine accessible. The consecutive visits of Indian envoys have created a positive atmosphere for further communication and dialogue.
Amid statements about Indian foreign secretaries visit, China also decided to send its envoy to Nepal. This visit was scheduled for two days after Shringla’s. China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe arrived in Kathmandu for a day’s visit on November 28. Experts opined that Kathmandu has once again become host to geopolitical games and failing to strike a balance will turn Nepal into a battleground for the foreign players. Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi is also frequently seen meddling with NCP’s internal party issues. This has time and again raised questions regarding Nepal’s sovereignty. Chinese have remained persistent to keep the ruling NCP intact and have crossed its jurisdiction to maintain it. China seems to be threatened by the continuous visits from India and therefore decided to send its envoy.
Meanwhile, India seems stern at reviving Nepal-India relations. It is crucial for Nepal to maintain a strong, healthy, and strict diplomatic position so as to reap the benefits from both its neighbours. Nepal must look out for its best interest in this geopolitical game.
 Observers cautiously optimistic over Indian army chief’s …. https://bipinadhikari.com.np/news/observers-cautiously-optimistic-over-indian-army-chiefs-visit/