India is losing its monopoly in Nepal and the southern neighbor is in panic mode. According to the Nepal’s Department of Industries (DoI), foreign direct investment (FDI) from China jumped to Rs. 3.48 billion in the first half of the current year. Meanwhile, India’s economic and political clout is declining simultaneously. The 2015 blockade was also responsible for the rise in anti-India hatred among innumerable Nepalis.
Trump’s presidential win also marks a defining moment in Nepal’s geopolitical battle. The idea of ‘anarchy’ in international relations often pushes powerful nations to step in into the international arena. But it comes with a price. The US has heavily paid for it by getting involved in wars and fight against terrorism. Will China and India be able to cope with international terrorism and at the same time have a unipolar hegemony? A report suggests that by 2030 China will lead be the number one in the world economy, US will fall into the second, and India will hold the third position. If this prediction comes true then how will the world unfold? What effects will it have in Nepal and other smaller South Asian countries? Forbes reported that China told India to back off from its new found colony—Sri Lanka. With the marred and unhealthy relationship between Sri Lanka and India, this was bound to happen. India might lose another friend too in near future—Nepal. But why has the current government of India failed in its diplomacy?
I had attended a think tank conference last month in Kathmandu and the statements I heard from Chinese thinkers, professors and intellectuals startled me. They clearly said that China would no longer be the ‘outsider’ and ‘passive neighbor’ for Nepal. The northern neighbor raised the issue of 2015 blockade and the unfair treatment by India towards Nepal. The crowd applauded them. What didn’t amuse me was the part where they stressed regarding One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative and how it would help Nepal. Their only agenda for Nepal is two-fold: a) Nepal should always uphold One-China policy (which means it shouldn’t let Tibetan activists take a foothold in Nepal) b) Nepal should consider the fact that China pushes for economic share (which means it wants to see Nepal develop and gradually challenge India). On the other hand, India has always hidden behind the agendas and policies of making Nepal dependent on it. These two different approaches have signaled a debate in Nepali press. What should be the priority of Nepal’s foreign policy? How should Nepal deal with this geopolitical quandary?
Recent reports and declassified files released by CIA and FBI reveals that India has been trying to occupy Nepal since the time of its independence. But it is a known fact that Nepal had come into confrontation with China too in the past. However, unlike India, China hasn’t acted aggressively with Nepal. This strong difference is now a known fact to many people in Nepal. Yet, why does India continue to act in a bossy manner? Perhaps the fault lies with Nepali leaders and politicians too from many years.
Recently Trump changed his stance regarding One-China policy. It astonished a lot of people all over the world. His unusual predicament and tactics have baffled analysts and critics as no one know what his foreign policy is. In such case, it is doubtful what stand he will take for India. Till this, United States has let India make Nepal its playground. And why wouldn’t India take up the opportunity? But in this changed scenario, it isn’t sure what Trump will decide to do. If he becomes disinterested with India’s geopolitical ambition, there will be a gap left in Nepal’s geopolitical clout. Then the European Union, India, and China will be left to fight for the monopoly. Few national dailies also have published news about EU and UN’s role in supporting secessionist C.K. Raut and likes. The funding of radical elements in Nepal by foreign powers to destabilize the nation in order to make it an experimental zone is not a new thing. But how long can they do this?
Interestingly, the current government led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal is eerily silent about OBOR. Despite China’s continuous invitation to join the bloc, PM Dahal appears to be in no mood to displease his Indian counterparts. This, indeed, is a great lesson for the current and future leaders and governments of Nepal. How far can the nation go to please its neighbors at the expense of development and political stability?
Geopolitics in Nepal is at a crossroad and it’s clear that both India and China are vying to have leverage in Nepal. Only time will show us if either of them will succeed or fail. China is already stepping up its game, while India is rethinking its strategy. Perhaps it needs to fix its attitude of not respecting Nepal’s sovereignty and work together in a good faith. If that happens, China will be once again forgotten by Nepal. If not, Indian historians in future will have a topic to discuss its geopolitical failure.
Arun Budhathoki is the Founding Editor of Kathmandu Tribune.