By Liu Zongyi
Newly elected Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, made India his first port of call earlier this month. The four-day trip was his first since taking office.
This visit was a point of discussion among the world’s media, with some being surprised that Prachanda chose India. He made his first foreign trip to China in 2008, after being elected as prime minister for the first time.
Some observers believe Prachanda is attempting to strike a delicate balancing act between India and China. Certain scholars say the visit is proof of New Delhi’s influences on Kathmandu. They think that agreements inked between China and Nepal’s former prime minister, Khadga Prasad Oli, will be affected. Meanwhile, others say Prachanda is practicing political opportunism in an attempt to maximize Kathmandu’s interests by exploiting the rivalry between China and India.
When the world’s media covered the news, they had all kinds of perspectives. But the fact is clear, Prachanda is no longer an idealist, but has become a realistic politician. Nepal will make more efforts in its balancing act, especially between China and India. But in the meantime, it will be hard for Kathmandu to get rid of its dependence on India politically, economically and culturally.
Moreover, Kathmandu has repeatedly expressed its hope to join the Beijing-led “One Belt and One Road” initiative and China also hopes Nepal would be a bridge between Beijing and New Delhi, in order to promote the construction of the China-Nepal-India Economic Corridor. However, all this was strongly opposed by India.
Prachanda has indeed turned more realistic. Given his experiences of being ousted a few months after assuming office last time and the tension between Nepal and India during the rule of his predecessor Oli, Prachanda now has a clearer understanding of the nation’s international environment. Therefore, it is reasonable for him to repair Nepal’s ties with New Delhi.
As previously stated, it is difficult for Kathmandu to extricate itself from India’s influences in many aspects, while the latter has both capability and determination to intervene in Nepal’s domestic politics through various means.
Meanwhile, China has long been emphasizing non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs. China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, which borders Nepal, is relatively underdeveloped, with poor transportation. It is hence hard for Beijing to provide daily supplies to Nepal. Apart from that, from the perspective of political stability alone, Prachanda will keep good ties with India and his efforts will pay off. In order to reduce the anti-India sentiment among the Nepalese while maintaining New Delhi’s influence in the country, India promised Prachanda infrastructural projects including railways, hydropower stations and assistance for Nepal’s reconstructions after the earthquake.
Nevertheless, Kathmandu will not stop its balancing act, which has become the nation’s basic principle of diplomatic strategy since the 1990s. This principle was established on Nepal’s fear they might lose their national independence, like Sikkim. Due to India’s major power mentality and Nepal’s small country psychology, any minor problem between the two might trigger a resurgence of Nepalese nationalism.
Although Prachanda visited India first, he sent a special envoy to China almost at the same time. Unlike what the Indian media described, Kathmandu is actually interested in the “One Belt and One Road” initiative, yet considering India’s attitude it does not dare to accelerate its pace of implementing the deals signed between Beijing and Oli. China should understand Nepal’s political and social situation.
China is not competing with India for influence in Nepal, but hopes its neighboring countries, including Nepal, will benefit from Chinese development. Beijing also hopes that Kathmandu can be a bridge between China and India and to promote the China-Nepal-India Economic Corridor, which will bring development and prosperity for all three economies.
However, the Indian strategic circle is still holding a mindset of geopolitical competition and zero-sum game, rather than treating the cooperation between China and South Asia from the perspective of geo-economy and win-win collaboration. This is the dilemma of Nepal’s foreign policy.
Beijing hopes to realize connectivity with Nepal and build a passageway toward South Asia through the latter, then China should make Kathmandu feel that Beijing is a reliable friend at crucial moments. That means, the former should not only boost economic development as well as infrastructural constructions in border areas – including Tibet Autonomous Region – but also enhance political and cultural exchanges with Nepal and other neighboring countries.
(The author is a senior fellow of the Shanghai Institute for International Studies and a visiting fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.)
Kathmandu can serve as a bridge between China and South Asia
By Liu Zongyi