November Analysis: International Relations and Foreign Affairs

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Nepal is once again in a tough place geopolitically. The congress led government is resetting its bilateral ties with India in multiple fronts. India has also been cooperative and responded positively to Nepal’s effort. Similarly, the US is harping on the endorsement of the MCC through multiple visits of the US officials, while China is actively trying to propagate anti-MCC sentiments among the people.

Timeline of Major Events

DateEvents
November 1PM Deuba leading a high-level delegation, attended the United Nations 26th Climate Conference (COP26).
November 2PM Deuba held meetings with British PM, Sri Lankan President, Mongolian President, and Indian PM.
November 8Chinese army provides 300,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses to Nepal army.
November 9Army Chief Prabhuram Sharma has reached New Delhi for a four-day official visit.
November 23Indian Ambassador and Secretary of Ministry of Health and Population signed a Memorandum of Understanding to accept Covid-19 certificates between the two nations.

Nepal Pacing up its Diplomacy

US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu paid a courtesy call on Foreign Minister Dr. Narayan Khadka at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Also present were Deputy Foreign Minister Kelly Kidderling and Foreign Secretary Bharatraj Poudyal. Photo: RSS

Prime Minister Deuba leading a high-level delegation, attended the United Nations 26th Climate Conference (COP26) on November 1 and 2. On the sideline, PM Deuba also met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a breakfast meeting. They discussed on increasing forest area in Nepal by 45%.  Similarly, the meeting was held with Sri Lankan President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as well on November 2. The two leaders talked about ways to strengthen the two countries’ ties. They also highlighted the exchange of cooperation in the educational sector and the enhancement of bilateral culture. Sri Lankan President shared his desire to establish a 30-bed hospital in Lumbini. They, too, deliberated upon the promotion of tourism in both countries. PM Deuba also met Mongolian President Uknna Khurelsukh on the sidelines of COP 26. PM Deuba’s visit to the COP26 built momentum in Nepal’s diplomacy with several countries.

On November 2, Deuba also met his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi. They discussed upon resolving problems between Nepal and India. They further delved into Nepal’s political situation, bilateral cooperation, and SAARC Summit. PM Modi’s visit to Nepal was also part of the discussion, after which Deuba shall visit New Delhi. Further, Nepal urged India to formally establish new air routes over India from Bhairawa, Nepalgunj, and Mahendranagar. Deuba also urged India’s support in resuming chemical fertilizers exports to Nepal. However, a formal agreement awaits. The meeting is viewed as a significant boost to India’s Neighborhood First policy and mending of relations between the neighbors who had been bickering earlier.

Nepal-India Ties

PM Deuba is striving to smoothen ties with India and undo the former government’s ultra-nationalist approach. The endeavors of Nepal to repair the relationship are evident from the relationship it is trying to build on a party-to-party level and government-to-government level. PM Deuba has resumed bilateral dialogues regarding several issues including, railway, hydropower, culture, and battling the COVID-19 pandemic. India has also welcomed Nepal’s steps to refurbish the strained ties.

In general, the Indo-Nepal bilateral relation is progressing somewhat on all fronts. The defense diplomacy between the two countries is being taken forward simultaneously. Army Chief Prabhuram Sharma reached New Delhi for a four-day visit on November 9 to receive the honorary rank of Maharathi of Indian Army. He also met the Indian President, Ram Nath Kovind; Defense Minister, Rajnath Singh; Chief of Staff, General Raut and Minister of external affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. The spokesperson of the Nepal Army said that the Chief’s visit should not be considered a mere progression of a ceremonial tradition of the two countries but as an opportunity to create an enabling environment for addressing bilateral issues. The spokesperson has termed the engagement as military diplomacy.

Nepal and India have gone a step further in the energy sector as well. Previously, only exchange of surplus energy used to happen between two countries. However, as per the Nepal Electricity Authority, India granted permission to Nepal to sell 39 MW generated by the Trishuli and Devighat powerhouses in the initial phase at the Indian Energy Exchange. However, India views energy as a “strategic commodity.” India attempts to restrict the rising use of Chinese contracts, workers, and technology in Nepal’s hydropower project. As per the NEA’s proposal, electricity from 456 MW Upper Tamakoshi, 69 MW Lower Marshyangdi and 45 MW Bhotekoshi hydropower projects has not been sold in a competitive market yet. The competition between China and India is amply visible in Nepal.

Moreover, India is finally providing Nrs. One hundred crores to develop Janakpur Dham during his visit in Janakpur, which PM Modi had announced in 2018. India is trying to enhance cultural and religious links with Nepal. In doing so, it is strengthening the people-to-people connection in Nepal.

India and Nepal have also agreed to recognize the COVID-19 vaccine certificates of both countries. On November 23, the Indian Ambassador and Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Population signed a Memorandum of Understanding to accept Covid-19 certificates between the two nations. This step will ease the travel between the two countries.

Even though both the countries are putting efforts to mend the relationship, there still are areas that leave room for contention. According to the Department of Railways, Nepal has restricted foreign nationals from third countries to travel to India through the Kurtha-Jaynagar railway line after Indian Officials voiced security concerns. This was decided while completing the Standard Operating Procedure (SPA) for cross-border railway operation. Later, both the countries agreed that third-country nationals could travel on the railway within Nepal but would not be permitted to travel to India.

Furthermore, India delayed providing permits to the enumerators to gather information for the census in two villages bordering India in Darchula. Since there are no roads to reach there from within Nepal, people must use the road via India. However, Nepali officials are assured that India would provide permits as it would reflect poorly on India.

Sino-Nepal relations

China was comfortable in working with then CPN (Maoist). During the CPN (Maoist) government, there was continuous cooperation between the governments and the two countries’ parties. China’s dissatisfaction with the change in government is palpable. Moreover, the border dispute broached by the congress-led government has also shaken China. Nevertheless, China is striving towards building a people-to-people relationship with Nepal. Chinese Embassy has signed an MOU to provide an internet facility in four community schools in Pokhara. During the virtual meeting, Gandaki Province’s Minister of Education, urged the Chinese Ambassador to take the initiative to open the Korla border crossing with China as it would help in rapid development if it were operated smoothly.

China has further provided 1.6 million doses of Vero cell vaccines to Nepal on November 3. It has been consistently cooperating with Nepal in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. However, growing inclination towards India and constant pressure from the US to endorse MCC has been the reason for Chinese anxiety. Chinese intelligence officer has been actively crafting anti-MCC rhetoric in Nepal as per the intelligence report prepared by Nepal’s security authorities. The report suggests that China is attempting to deteriorate Nepal’s ties with third countries, specifically the US. It appears that China wants sole influence in Nepal.

Nepal-US Relations

The US has constantly been pushing for prompt parliamentary endorsement of MCC. However, its attempts have been unsuccessful so far. Many US officials have visited Nepal multiple times. The United States Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Donald Lu, came to Kathmandu for a two-day visit. He met Prime Minister Deuba, Foreign Minister Khadka, and other political leaders. They discussed various bilateral issues and COVID 19 support. Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Kelly Keiderling also visited Kathmandu on November 18.

The US Assistant State Secretary Donald Lu met KP Sharma Oli on November 19. They deliberated upon MCC. Oli stated that he would reveal his position regarding MCC after the ruling parties decide regarding this. Minister Lu also met CPN (Maoist Center) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal. He said, ‘The MCC got complicated in the parliament due to its ratification clause.’ However, he also maintained that he has discussed with the Prime Minister regarding it and is planning to further discuss in all-party meeting.The US- Nepal bilateral relations are somewhat progressing while MCC remains in limbo.

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