Nepal and Geopolitics

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Image: Xinhua

The parliamentary dissolution of December 20, 2020, by Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli has had severe ramification in the domestic and international political scenario. At the national level, this has caused the Nepal Communist party (NCP) to split, and at the international level, this is viewed as major geopolitical loss for China, while India stated that it is an internal matter of Nepal. Political upheavals in Nepal have always been a matter of great concern for China. This is fairly evident through the incessant endeavours of China’s ambassador to Nepal, Hou Yanqi’s attempts to make peace between the two factions in NCP and keep the party intact. Chinese ambassador, on December 20, met president Bidya Devi Bhandari, followed by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Madhav Kumar Nepal, and few other leaders of their party.

After several failed attempts of uniting the two factions, a four-member team of Chinese delegation led by Guo Yenzhou, a vice-minister of the International Department of the Communist Party of China arrived in Nepal. The team held meetings independently with several leaders including the President, PM Oli, Nepal, Dahal, Jhalanath Khanal along with Baburam Battarai. The team strived to conciliate the fall-outs between Oli and Dahal, conveying the message that China wants political stability in Nepal.

Oli’s sudden move left China off-guard. To continue to maintain its influence in Nepal, shortly after, the Chinese team met with Sher Bahadur Deuba, the party leader of Nepali Congress. As per reports, the Chinese President, Xi Jin Ping also invited Deuba to China. Meeting with Deuba seems to be a desperate attempt to bolster its relationship with Nepali Congress. Apart from gauging the intensity of the political crisis, the team also spoke about the progress on the infrastructural development, reinforcement of Nepal-China relationship and mutual cooperation, among other matters.

With Nepal being a part of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China took a massive undertaking to develop infrastructure in Nepal in 2017. In 2020, Nepal also entered into an agreement with the US to receive substantial amount in grants which the parliament is yet to endorse. The presence of MCC proposal itself has been viewed as a potent threat to China’s influence over Nepal. The current political crisis has further placed the pro-MCC faction at an advantage over the anti-MCC opposition. China is apprehensive about this power shift caused by the political turmoil that currently stands in favour of the MCC. However, India has viewed the increased Chinese interaction with Nepal post the house dissolution to be interfering in the internal matters of Nepal.

The US also has taken the stand that dissolution of the house is Nepal’s internal affair and it should uphold democratic processes while resolving it. Further, as the US instates its new president Joe Biden, it has brought about some changes in its foreign policy to Nepal. On January 20, the US ambassador to Nepal, Randy Berry visited Madhav Kumar Nepal. Subsequently, on January 21, he visited PM Oli. Likewise on January 25, he met the President Bhandari, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, and Sher Bahadur Deuba separately. In the meetings, he discussed primary issues the Biden administration will be harping on. Berry expressed that the new administration will be majorly focusing on four areas such as Indo-Pacific Strategy, endorsement of MCC, the persistent Tibet issue, and ensuring justice to victims of conflict era.

Although, recently China has deepened its rivalry with India, it is the influence of US over Nepal that holds China’s attention currently. On December 27, 2020, the Trump administration had passed the Tibet Policy and Support Act (TPSA) which requires Nepal to pay regards to the agreement with UNHCR and provide Tibetan refugees legal documentation along with permitting them to completely partake in the economy and society of Nepal. This provision of the Act has put Nepal in a critical geo-political position. The US is putting immense pressure on Nepal to immediately act in consonance with TPSA and India is likely to stand with the US in this regard. Any affirmative action in accordance with the Act most certainly would not sit well with China. Nepal has become a battlefield for two tussling nations to demonstrate its power.

As the Chinese influence increases in Nepal, the image of China being a non-interfering neighbour, slumps. Whereas, India has strategically remained silent in this regard to highlight the desperate attempts of China trying to micromanage Nepal’s internal politics. On the other hand, the neighbourhood first policy that India has adopted has run full-fledged with its vaccine diplomacy. Amidst the political crisis in Nepal, the foreign minister of Nepal flew down to New Delhi to participate in the Sixth Meeting of the Nepal-India Joint Commission on January 15. The meeting was held with an intention to refurbish the loosened ties between India and Nepal. Deliberation was done upon several issues such as trade, connectivity and infrastructural projects amongst others. India agreed upon providing Covid-19 vaccines, and such generosity of India was widely appreciated by Nepal. However India’s reluctance on discussing the on-going border dispute speaks volumes. Even though the relationship between the two countries is not in its best shape yet, it has somewhat uplifted since it hit the all-time low with the emergence of the boundary dispute.

India is trying to mend relationships with its neighbours which lately has not been free flowing. Nevertheless, it has also been a new contest between China and India to assert power. India has successfully managed to ease China’s growing economic dominance, at least in South-Asia.

Further, PM Oli, addressing the nation on January 10, stated that both China and India are well-wishers of Nepal and it intends to further foster this relationship. He further said that he aims to resolve the border row and bring back Nepal’s territory, sending a message across to India. However, in the situation of turmoil, Nepal will not be able to endure pressure from three global powers which may lead Nepal to a geo-political dilemma.

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