21st century serves as an era of immense possibilities for Asia, but probably not for Nepal, in the present context. The rapid economic growth of its two neighboring nations fails to effloresce into the futuristic hope of development per se. However, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has stated that Nepal’s growth for 2017 will be 5.5%. This prediction is uncertain since Nepal ranks 133 in the Corruption Perception Index 2016. The problem of corruption and political instability has affected the overall sector of Nepal, including its foreign policy.
China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative and India’s push for economic and geopolitical dominance can be felt in Nepal too. Both the countries are engaging in the announcement of trade, power, and investment agreements. While China swiftly works to execute its agreements, India suffers from red-tape and anti-India issues in Nepal. The problem lies in Nepal too as it’s the third most corrupt country in South Asia. However, the timeframe for the completion of projects by China is faster than that of India.
In a recent conference, Chinese delegates emphasized heavily on OBOR and Kerung Port. One delegate even made a statement: “Let’s take China and Nepal’s friendship higher than Mt. Everest, deeper than the Indian Ocean.” The Chinese side is well aware of the fact that India has continuously interfered in Nepal’s internal matters since the time of Nehru. Another delegate pointed out that China has never imposed hegemony on Nepal and it never would. Whereas young Chinese delegates even spoke against India, raising eyebrows in the audience. It was, perhaps, the first time that a Chinese delegation was so vocal regarding India’s treatment against Nepal.
China has changed its game in regards to Nepal. It now pushes for geoeconomic strategy, hoping to captivate Nepal by its OBOR and continue to put Nepal in its One-China policy. Nepal is praised by China for its effort in curbing Tibetan protests in Nepal. On the other hand, India suspects that China is trying to encircle it by using the OBOR, and China readily fears a growing encircling of its territory by ‘a group of democracies’. Meanwhile, Nepal is squashed between the infighting of these two big neighbors.
Lipu Lekh pass, recently, was shown as a part of Uttarkhand to China and the two neighboring nations agreed to make it a meeting point. Lipu Lekh, since ancient times, was a part of Nepal but the two nations forsaking Nepal has put China in the position of distrust. Sources say India had presented an altered map of Lipu Lekh – making it a part of Uttarkhand to the Chinese counterparts – thus, hoodwinking them. There are intellectuals now who have raised the question: Is China really trustworthy?
China and India cannot be trusted from the realist eyes of international relations. And they too cannot trust Nepal because Nepali politicians have often sided with either of them. Nepal’s unclear foreign policy, external influence on its policies, and lack of leadership has created a whirlwind of catastrophes—provisionally independent albeit transforming it into a ‘client state’. Moreover, Nepal has suffered more than from India’s hegemonic mentality than from China so far. Therefore, India needs to prove to Nepal if it’s really going to shed off its colonial mindset and become the true friend it claims to be. China though has steadily embraced Nepal to implement its interests.
The world is not unipolar anymore. The recent decisions made by Trump and the backward steps that the global power has taken in the light of growing terrorism, the influx of refugees and economic agenda has pushed China into the global limelight. President Xi Jiping now wants to take over the world and he might be successful after all. India cannot always rely on the US for its South Asian hegemonic policy. Trump has surprised plenty of state actors and it cannot be said that India will not exhibit similar reaction.
Nepal’s foreign policy is unclear due to political infighting [interests], weak democratic institutions and influence of external powers. It is also not non-aligned as mentioned in the paper but often sides with China and India when it comes to taking a decision on international matters.
The laymen in India and China often state that Nepal is in the state of the pendulum when it comes to the position of taking sides. But what both states miss that Nepal ultimately worries about its sovereignty. If there’s no Nepal, there will be no Nepalis. And that’s a major concern these days among the masses. There’s a growing feeling among few Nepali circle that India is taking revenge with Nepal for its indifference in reference to 1962 Sino-Indian war where India had lost. And, perhaps, that’s why it continues to persevere to rope in Gurkhas, and Nepali security forces under its arms.
Arun Budhathoki is a Senior Correspondent with Anna Note.