Does Geography Determine Destiny?

By Gopal Khanal (KATHMANDU, 9 July 2020) – Geopolitics is the study of the effects of geography in politics and international relations. Geographical location of an independent country is crucial to define domestic politics and her relations to the neighbours and external world. ‘Geography is destiny’ is a phrase that owes its origin to early theories of geopolitics. It means certain geographical regions and countries have political, strategic and economic advantage. Such countries or regions are often in the spotlight. The ”curse of geography” is another term that reflects the effects of geographic isolation from and proximity to centres of power.

Classical geopolitics
When Rudolf Kjellen, a Swedish political scientist, first used the word ”Geopolitics” in 1899, it was interrelated to classical geopolitics, which was focused on expansion of territory and power acquisition. Dr. Karl Haushofer employed this term to define the foreign policy of Nazi Germany, which was engrossed in territorial expansion.
The contemporary world has seen fundamental changes in the concept and meaning of geopolitics. Today’s geopolitics doesn’t primarily relate to the territorial expansion since the transformed global order doesn’t allow the policy deployed during Cold Wars. Geopolitics today is ”critical geopolitics”, which is more comprehensive examination of the ideologies and behaviour of states or policies that reinforce their political behaviours.
Nepal’s neighbours and the two nuclear powers – India and China – have been stuck in border tension as the border Line of Actual Control (LAC) is not clearly defined or ill-defined. The latest violent face-off in the Galwan Valley is the upshot of that claim and counter-claim of the same borderland. It can be said the two powers do not aim to acquire the territories of other independent nations but they are seemingly trying to fish in troubled waters with a view to gaining advantage.
In Nepal, India and China have been covertly and overtly seeking their space so as to tip the balance of domestic politics in their favour. Nepal shouldn’t lose the relative balance in such tricky situation.
No one should blame the history no matter what has been the legacy. The history of India and China is unlike that of Nepal. These rising economies were once under the rule of foreigners. Colonialism first stepped into China after the victory of British Navy in the first opium war (1839 – 42). The treaties of 1856 and 1860 opened door for the western powers to trade and extend their power into the interior China. In 1937, Japan took control of the entire country. Ultimately, China defeated Japan in the Second World War and freed itself from foreign rule.
India has the same legacy. The British Raj was the rule by the British Crown on the Indian sub-continent from 1858 to 1947. The East India Company had first landed in India in 1608 for the purpose of conducting trade.
The people of India and China know the importance of freedom and right to self-determination. Proponents of modernisation theory argue that colonisation in China and India was a blessing in disguise and had a major impact on their overall development. Nepali people fought for territory but not for independence since the country has never been the colony of any foreign power.
No doubt, Nepal’s geography is destiny if it is explored properly. If the geopolitical sensitivity is undermined and overlooked, it can be a curse. Opportunities and challenges come together. Dexterity lies in grabbing the opportunity by setting aside the challenges. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s policy is to convert the challenges into an opportunity.
Nepal’s approach to her neighbours is balanced and based on mutual benefit. India and China should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Nepal. Principally, both have maintained despite the pragmatic loopholes. Nepal still feels they have shown their expansionist and imperialist nature in dealing with it. China has relatively respected Nepal’s territorial integrity since the establishment of diplomatic relations.
The 2015 agreement of India and China to expand bilateral trade via Lipulek has severely hurt the sentiments of Nepali people. Nepalis are eager to hear from the Chinese government that it has officially disowned the agreement. We also believe that India will amicably hand over the Nepali territories to us on the basis of historical evidences. For this, diplomatic negotiation is needed.
China and India should not intervene in the domestic affairs of Nepal on any pretext since genuine concerns are the issues to be addressed bilaterally. New Delhi’s clandestine move either to support or topple the government and system in Nepal is objectionable. Similarly, Beijing’s tacit or tactical involvement in choosing one over other is equally unacceptable.

China’s Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi’s recent meeting with the senior leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) should not be taken as ‘interference’ since the contents of their talks are not officially known. Her meetings with the NCP’s top guns have generated plenty of speculations but the reality can be quite different. When Nepal can raise the genuine issues regarding the protection of national interest and sovereignty, the neighbours and friendly nations should not be piqued. Nepal cannot please her neighbours at the cost of her sovereignty and territorial integrity.

(Khanal is consulting editor at Gorkhapatra Corporation. [email protected]) 

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