The new year kicked off with the arrival of the new Chinese Ambassador to Nepal on January 08, 2023. The Chinese Ambassador on arrival interacted with the media where he mentioned strengthening bilateral relations and extending China’s assistance to safeguard the sovereignty of Nepal. The Chinese envoy’s initial interaction with the media and engagement with the political leaders indicates China’s assertive engagements in Nepal’s political landscape. Nepal also welcomed Victor Nuland, the undersecretary of the US on January 29, 2023. On her visit, interactions were held with the Prime Minister, political leaders, and officials. In her interaction with the media, she expressed her concern on Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), issues of corruption, transitional justice among others. She also spoke that Nepal should prioritize its sovereign while building economic relations with its neighbor. Alongside this, Nepal - US military exercise kicked off in Nepal in the same month.
Timeline of Major Events
||Chinese Ambassador arrives Nepal
||Nepal - US joint kicks off military exercise
||US undersecretary visits Nepal
Indistinctive geopolitical rivalry
In the prior months Nepal government has welcomed international dignitaries and delegates mostly from US and China. While some of them are routine visits, the other visits are ambiguous and unclear. Currently, back-to-back delegates from US, Chinese Ambassador engagement with political leader ever since his arrival and, Indian envoy travelling across various parts of Nepal can be speculated that each country are striding to influence Nepali government. In the year 2022 Nepal and the US strengthened its relation in economic, infrastructure development through signing MCC. The implementation of MCC has taken off in Nepal. Another initiative on the State Partnership Programme between Nepal and the US was rejected after being surrounded with controversies that led to political implication. Before such a high-level visit, the new government with left ideologies came into power. In between this China’s claiming Pokhara International Airport as one of its flagship projects under BRI created confusion in the public. Then after, the new Chinese Ambassador meeting with political leaders, army officials, promoting Chinese culture. The US wants to ensure that the bilateral relations are intact amid the heightened geopolitical complications and anticipation of China's assertiveness in the geopolitical landscape and international politics in the coming days. However, China increasing its influence over Kathmandu through its ties with the communist parties.
US undersecretary visits Nepal
On January 29, 2023 the US undersecretary Victoria Nuland visited Nepal. After PM Dahal’s acquisition to the post, it is the first high-level visit
from the US. The undersecretary met other political leaders and important officials during her visit. She called upon the Prime Minister and discussed various matters related to bilateral relations and mutual cooperation. Before wrapping up her visit, speaking to the media, she expressed her concern on the land acquisition issue on the projects under the Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant.
Furthermore, she also discussed the issues regarding progress on transitional justice and extended any support if required in the process. She also mentioned that the US wants Nepal to be mindful while establishing an economic relationship with its neighbor and make a sovereign decision. She prioritized fighting corruption, the environment to build international business and investment in Nepal and exploring green energy to untap the potential of Nepal. In addition to this, USAID administrator Samantha Power is also expected to visit on February 05, 2023. Samantha Power also served
as Washington’s permanent representative at the UN during the Obama administration years.
In the backdrop of formation of the new government in Nepal which is ideologically aligned with China and growing influence of China in Nepal manifested through high level visits and intensified engagements in internal politics, the US visit indicates that it is ready to work with the government in Nepal and maintain good bilateral relations. The visits also signal that Biden’s administration wants to engage with the current government and ensure that their interests are prioritized. Also, after PM Dahal came into power the issue on transitional justice was raised which depicts that the US has prioritized human rights in its bilateral relations with Nepal.
Nepal - US joint kicks off military exercise
Nepal and the US began
joint exercise Ex-Teak Nail 23-3011" of the Nepali Army and the American Army on January 10, 2023 at Nagarkot. In the exercise 45 people from the Nepalese army and 19 people from the American. The exercise is targeted to combat in disaster rescue areas and provides knowledge on water, high altitude and rescue operations. As Nepal is prone to disaster such as earthquake, landslide and flood it does not have enough resources and techniques to handle such missions. The US has provided humanitarian aid to the Nepal Army for two decades to overcome the disaster crisis.
The new Chinese Ambassador Chen Song arrived in Nepal on January 08, 2023. The Chinese envoy speaking to the media at the Tribhuvan International Airport upon his arrival mentioned that China will work towards enhancing relations with Nepal. He also said
“China will firmly support Nepal in safeguarding state sovereignty and national dignity, exploring a development path suited to its national conditions, and pursuing independent domestic and foreign policies.” It is the first time that the Chinese Ambassador organized a press meet at the airport upon his arrival. In this interaction with the media, Amb Chen stated that China will assist Nepal in safeguarding Nepal’s sovereignty and national dignity signaling Chinese interest in the internal political landscape of Nepal. He paid a courtesy call to the Prime Minister Dahal on January 16, 2023. In the later period, especially after the general election in November 2022, China has heightened its engagement with the communist parties. China sees the coalition among CPN UML and CPN (Maoist center) to form the government under the leadership of CPN (Maoist Centre) chair Puspa Kamal Dahal, an opportune moment to renew
their political space and increase its influence in Nepal’s politics.
It is the first time that the Chinese Amb conducted a press meeting at the airport and has been so vocal. In the coming days it can be anticipated that the Chinese government will become more assertive and engage openly with the domestic stakeholders. Apart from this, Nepal-China relations will be tested in the coming days as it still needs to finalize the projects under the Belts and Road Initiative. The border points were reshut by China, reasoning the celebration of New Year in China. In this moment where Nepal’s economic ties are increasing with China, it is yet to see the intensification in the relation between Nepal and China under the new government.