Nepal-US relations in hot debate – Online Khabar

After the proclamation of the Republic of Nepal in 2072 BS, India imposed an undeclared blockade keeping its ‘reservations’. At that time, the political circle was very hot regarding Nepal-India relations. After that, KP Oli’s government was formed and this government started arguing over Chinese railways and oil. During the current Deuba government, Nepal-US relations are being discussed in an unusual way. From this, it is easy to understand how Nepal’s internal politics is being influenced by geopolitics.

The US development project ‘MCC’, which was passed by the parliament of Nepal only a few months ago, could not be discussed and now another US strategic agreement ‘SPP’ has got good ‘coverage’ in the media. Debates are raging over the agreement, which is linked to military strategy, and would be extremely risky for non-aligned nations such as Nepal.

However, it would be hasty to reconsider Nepal-US relations. Because this relationship has many dimensions. The United States, which has economic and ‘diasporic’ relations, has a history of supporting Nepal strategically in different periods.

Nepal has been of strategic importance only to India and China (Tibet) since time immemorial, and became equally important to the United States, which became a world power after the Second World War. Diplomatic relations were established between Nepal and the United States in 1947 (Rana period). Since then, the United States has supported Nepal’s bid for UN membership.

However, Nepal’s efforts since 1949 were thwarted by the then Soviet Union. Due to the continuous efforts of King Mahendra, Nepal became a member of the United Nations in 1955 with the support of the United States. After that, Mahendra made Nepal-US relations strategic by making two state visits to the United States.

This foresight of Nepal probably saved the country from becoming Sikkim. America’s contribution to this is also unforgettable. Therefore, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the United States, being a neighbor of the sky, is Nepal’s powerful ‘Third Neighbor’. In addition, the US assistance to Nepal in the areas of economic and social engineering is commendable.

Ujjwal Utsarga
Bright dedication

After the end of the British-backed Rana ‘regime’ in 1950, Nepal has for years been embroiled in a tug-of-war between the present India, China and US (Western) powers to make Nepal their sphere of influence. Such geopolitical competition also benefits the country to some extent. For example, by adopting a non-aligned policy during the Cold War between the United States and the then Soviet Union, Nepal had reaped considerable strategic and economic benefits by keeping these countries at a distance. At that time, with the help of American, Indian, Chinese and Soviet aid, a large number of industries and physical infrastructures were built in Nepal.

But in recent times, the geopolitical situation has changed with the change of Nepal’s system. The current geopolitical competition is between the United States and China. With this change, Nepal’s non-alignment is also beginning to change, senior politicians themselves have begun to question. The Chinese are concerned that some decisions are being made to discourage Chinese investment projects in Nepal, such as the roar of tigers and the disappearance of goats.

For example, the West Seti hydropower project can be given to India without any competition from the cabinet, but the old Gandaki project, which has been given in the same way, has been snatched from China. It is clear that the recent decision not to take Chinese BRI loans has changed the way we look at China. Anti-China Tibetan refugee activity has increased. In the case of Russia-Ukraine, even more support for the anti-Russian US alliance at the UN suggests that Nepal is now poised to become an American ‘Alliance Nation’. As the SPP agreement would formalize US military activity, there is a general understanding that Nepal will now be its ‘client nation’ within the US strategic perimeter.

Although the government has been defending its non-aligned foreign policy verbally, it is becoming increasingly complex in practice. The argument that the US has now reached Nepal via India by forming a front against China according to its ‘Indo-Pacific’ security strategy is not weak.

The US move to look at Nepal through Indian lens and make Nepal a participant in the strategy with the consent of India is certain to strain Nepal’s relations with China, another neighbor. Can’t Nepal keep the US and China in balance with the policy of non-alignment in the changed geopolitics? Have US and China started playing ‘Zero Sum Game’ in Nepal? The government must answer these questions.

In diplomacy, the term “zero sum game” refers to the effect that one power can exert its influence on a target country while the other power may increase its monopoly power. Due to the geopolitical activities taking place in Nepal, the conscious citizens have started giving the impression that the US and China have started playing ‘Zero Sum Game’. The case of Tibet is their main game while the land of Nepal is their playing field. During the monarchy, the game was played in favor of the Chinese and the Tibetans were defeated. But in the Republican era, there are fears that the game is being played in favor of the United States and that it is preparing to win over the Tibetans.

It seems that it is time to take the ‘dividend’ of the many investments made by the western powers on the major political parties of Nepal. If the Nepali leaders do not want to do this now, the Maoist leaders themselves are beginning to hear fears and anxieties that an unexpected political event could take place, such as the overthrow of the Oli government, or that one side in the conflict may be led to The Hague.

But the bitterness between the power nations also depends on the geopolitical environment. Reviewing the past, China and the United States have not only fought over Nepal, but also stood together. After animosity with the Soviet Union erupted in 1975, China turned to the United States. The then US President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visited China. At that time, India had annexed Sikkim. During the visit, important information that US officials have talked with China to prevent Nepal from becoming another Sikkim has come to light from ‘Kissinger Files’.

Similarly, the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), which came to Nepal to complete the peace process between the then Maoist rebels and the Nepalese government, has also been removed from here by mutual agreement between India and China. In this way, if these competing countries can be taken into confidence, Nepal’s geopolitical risk will be reduced and stability will be maintained. But this requires a nation-centric diplomacy, not a power-centric one, as was the case during the reign of King Mahendra. Mahendra’s diplomacy was praised by US Secretary of State Kissinger himself. Mahendra era equilibrium diplomacy was a successful diplomacy. Over time, this needs to be transformed into closer diplomacy.

In order to maintain close relations with these countries, Nepal must do something ‘give and take’. The United States does not have to worry about the Tibetans being subjected to the Panchayat-era brutal repression of China and depriving them of some administrative and cultural facilities. However, some issues related to the recent visit of Ujra Jaya, US Deputy Secretary of State for Civil Security, Democracy and Human Rights and Special Coordinator for Tibet Affairs, to Nepal are questionable. There are fears that this is not the case with the Tibetan refugee issue.

According to the SPP agreement, US military activity in the Himalayas could certainly provoke such an insurgency. In view of such apprehensions, the public warning given by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to Nepal in 2019 that the bones of those involved in such activities would be crushed should not be underestimated.

Although Nepal’s official involvement in the Indo-Pacific US military strategy ‘IPS’ has not been heard of, such activities are widely seen in practice. Charles A. Philan, the head of the organization, recently visited Nepal. After the MCC agreement, the visit of US officials to Nepal has become very busy. They have a good grip on the Deuba government and the Nepal Army. In the process of signing one agreement after another, the United States was to sign an ‘SPP’ agreement with Nepal.

Perhaps the impending visit of the Prime Minister and Chief of Army Staff of Nepal to the United States was mainly focused on this. If these visits are for US military purposes only, then China and India must be feeling the risk. That may be why the Prime Minister’s wife Arju Rana had reached New Delhi to keep India in balance. The Deuba government does not seem to have taken any such initiative to take China into confidence. Perhaps under some other geopolitical pressure, the current Deuba government is signaling its withdrawal from the SPP agreement.

Thus, the impending visit of Prime Minister Deuba to the United States may be significant in itself at this critical time when there is a strategic conflict between the superpowers over Nepal. The sensitivities of India and China are not to be overlooked during Deuba’s visit to the US. By convincing the Americans about Nepal’s complex geopolitical sensitivities, India, China and the US should be prevented from playing the ‘Zero Sum Game’ in Nepal. Only when Nepal-US relations move in this direction can there be stability in Nepal.

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