Is Nepal’s geostrategic situation a curse or a boon?

By PKBalachandran

Colombo, June 27 (Ceylon Today): As the US-China conflict escalates since President Xi Jinping began challenging US hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region, the United States has fought its way into the Nepal in a bid to nullify China’s growing influence there. China and the United States are using economic engagement as a subterfuge to penetrate and influence the system in Nepal. And both hope to add a military or security dimension to the relationship as soon as possible.

With India alongside the United States in the Indo-Pacific arena, the challenge for China is all the greater and the pressure on Nepal is all the greater now. Nepal is caught in a chasm between the United States and China. While the United States is a global power with a new interest in bolstering its defenses in all parts of Asia allegedly threatened by China, including Nepal, and with China blowing down Nepal’s neck from the Across the northern border, Nepalese wonder if their “strategic location” is a boon or a curse.

American-Chinese rivalry

Given its geographical proximity to Nepal, China was naturally the first to make major economic inroads in Nepal. Beijing invested US$188 million in FDI in Nepal in the 2020-2021 financial year, more than any other country. China and Nepal had signed a transit transport agreement in 2016. This offered Nepal another outlet than those of the Nepal-India border, which could be closed to the detriment of Nepal if it fell under the blow of India. In May 2017, Nepal officially became a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), ruffling the feathers of Washington which sees the BRI as a preeminent threat to the free world. In July 2017, Fatema Z. Sumar, Deputy Regional Vice President of the compact US Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) visited Nepal and urged it to accept MCC’s US$500 million for projects in the sectors electricity and roads.

But the Nepalese were against the MCC because some of its provisions violated the sovereignty of Nepal. Clause 7.1 stated that MCC leaders “shall prevail over the national laws of Nepal.” Article 6.8 provided immunity for MCC personnel in “all courts and tribunals in Nepal”. Above all, the MCC was part of the Indo-Pacific anti-China strategy. A US State Department document titled, “A Free and Open Pacific: Advancing a Shared Vision” recognized the MCC as the economic pillars of the Indo-Pacific strategy.

Nepalese governments were afraid to go against China and have repeatedly postponed the ratification of the MCC. Eventually, Nepal and the United States reached a compromise and Parliament ratified the MCC on February 27, 2022. It was agreed that Nepal will not be part of the US Indo-Pacific strategy or any strategic alliance, military or security from the United States, from Nepal. minister, Janardan Sharma said. Further, the MCC Compact will not be above the constitution and laws of Nepal. Auditing of MCC projects would be carried out by the Comptroller and Auditor General of Nepal.

State Partnership Program

Emboldened by success in coaxing Nepal, albeit after making concessions, the United States revived the State Partnership Program (SPP) on hold since 2015. The SPP had disaster mitigation overtones , but had unmistakable defensive and geostrategic undertones.

According to official US information, the “State Partnership Program (SPP) is an exchange program between the National Guard of a US state and a foreign partner country. The U.S. National Guard supports U.S. first responders nationwide in dealing with natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, and wildfires. In the event of natural and other disasters, ranging from hurricanes to earthquakes, floods and fires, the United States seeks to share the best practices and capabilities of our National Guardsmen – our first responders. The PPS can be an effective means of facilitating this type of cooperation.

Nepalese critics said that while disaster mitigation was good, the problem lay elsewhere: the SPP is administered by the National Guard Bureau, guided by the State Department’s foreign policy objectives and executed by the Adjutant Generals. of the state in support of the policy objectives of the Department of Defense.

“Through the SPP, the National Guard conducts military engagements in support of defense security objectives, but also leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader interagency and corollary engagements spanning the military, governmental, economic and social spheres,” one says the US government’s website.

In other words, the PSP is a multi-purpose vehicle for advancing broad U.S. political and strategic objectives under the general guise of humanitarian engagement.

Accompanying the push for the SPP were high-level US visits that sparked speculation about America’s strategic goals vis-a-vis rival China. Uzra Zeya, Under Secretary of State for Civil Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, and U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, visited in May and spoke with Tibetan refugees. She took the status of undocumented refugee since 1995 and asked for documentation. To encourage Nepal to achieve this goal, Zeya has offered a development contribution of over US$600 million. But his request was not accepted by Nepal because China wants Nepal to send the refugees back to Tibet. Like Zeya, US Ambassador Randy Berry met with Tibetan refugees. In addition, US Army Pacific Commander General Charles A. Flynn visited Nepal and urged acceptance of the SPP.

A worried Chinese ambassador, Hou Yanqi, called Nepal’s interior minister and inquired about Nepal’s continued adherence to the “One China” policy in light of US attempts to back Taiwan with country backing. Asians.

The Nepalese were concerned about the militarization of their country by outside powers under the pretext of aiding development and disaster management. The last thing they wanted was to turn their country into a theater of conflict or war between China and the United States over Tibet or any other issue.

This prompted Nepal’s Interior Minister Bal Krishna Khand to state categorically that the government would not join the SPP as it “strongly believes that the territory of Nepal should not be allowed to be used against any friendly nation”. Nepal is not tied to the SPP, he stressed.