India’s Reluctance on China-Nepal-India Trilateral Cooperation

unnamedBy Shyam KC—“Rare and Pleasant” coincidence, Prime Minister Puspa Kamal Dahal said, amidst the many speculations in regards to the tripartite meeting – happened during BRICS-BIMSTEC Outreach Summit in the Indian City of Goa and he reiterated that both the leaders from India and China retorted in a “very positive way” in his approaching about trilateral cooperation– let further development to determine truthfulness of the claim he made.

India’s MEA Spokesperson said, the meeting was “entirely coincidental” and flatly rejected saying it trilateral, without exploring any such possibility about trilateral cooperation. Whereas, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s , without mentioning anything about the meeting, stated that “We would like to explore how to enhance trilateral cooperation with India and Nepal so as to advance common development of the three countries” at a press conference in Beijing.

Trilateral cooperation among India, Nepal and China lately became the much talked alternative approach of redefining Nepal’s foreign policy. In official level, the idea of trilateral cooperation had been forwarded by Maoist Chief Puspa Kamal Dahal, in April 2013 during his visit to China and India. China’s Official News Agency Xinhua reported in 2012 saying “the idea of trilateral cooperation is premature” by the then Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid. While in contrast, Chinese zeal can be read, like Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on his visit to Kathamandu in December 2014, stressed China’s willingness to work in trilateral cooperation with Nepal and India.

The report of the event entitled “Is India-Nepal-China trilateral Cooperation possible?” on May 15, 2013 by the Institute of Defense and Strategic Analysis (IDSA) of India highlighted that the proposed trilateral cooperation as a menace to the India’s pre-eminent role in the South Asian region by enabling influential presence of China– recommended India for maintaining the status quo for the time being and should not join the trilateral cooperation.

All in all the heavy presence of China is already being felt across the South Asia– like ongoing $1.4 billion Chinese-funded Colombo port city project, $403 million Chinese FDI in Sri Lanka in 2014 as per the report by Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, which was only $4.1 million in 2010, recent $24 billion loan agreements during the President Xi’s visit to Bangladesh, arrival of the first Cargo train from Nantong of China to Hairatan of Afghanistan on Sep. 2016, not to mention $46 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor Project underway in Pakistan– China’s all-weather ally.

The same report from IDSA even further barely warned Nepal to ‘‘realize its limitation and should not unnecessarily try to play a bigger diplomatic role and hurry into this trilateral cooperation without understanding its implications’’ – in some way it portrays our weak internal preparation, but perhaps it won’t also be wrong to decode as the sheer indication for Nepal to remain silent under India’s ‘sphere of influence.’

In the strategic front, the issue of Tibet is the major concern of China and is continuously cautious about Nepal not being used by external powers for instigating anti-Tibet movement– other hand India perceives Nepal as ‘strategic Himalayan frontier’ for plausible aggression form China– can be read as the continuity of Nehru’s foreign policy articulation.

With the intensifying continuity of their strategic rivalry in the global arena, uncertainty prevailed cooperation in regards to Nepal. For stance, there is an enormous distrust in New Delhi about the China-proposed ‘One Belt One Road Initiative’. In March 2016, at the inaugural Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the Foreign Secretary of India, identified ‘Connectivity’ as having ’emerged as a theater of present day geopolitics’, without mentioning China. The Fullerton Lecture organized in Singapore last year by The International Institute for Strategic Study, Jaishankhar, replied OBOR as the “national Chinese initiative” devised and created by China and further added “ it is not incumbent on other countries to necessarily buy it because national initiative are devised with national interest” –   signaling about the questions of ownership.

The Transit Transport Agreement signed with China by then Prime Minister KP Oli and Nepal’s willingness and support for active participation in China’s Belt and Road initiative– can be observed as the foundation of trilateral cooperation. In effect, China had already built the rail network from Lasha to Sighatse and expected the completion of link from Sighatse to Kerung, nearest Chinese city from Nepal, by 2020. In 2005 Nepal’s Department of Road identified the eight possible routes of north-south roads via Nepal– among them the 265km road from Raxual-Trishuli-Rasuwa is the shortest one.

Proponents believe that, if India is enthusiastic towards trilateral cooperation, Nepal can especially bridge China’s Tibetan Autonomous Region and ‘Heartland of India’ Uttar Pradesh and Bihar– tapping economic opportunities while offering them a huge economical comparative advantage– though the comprehensive study regarding the technicality of such trade route is still in need of greater exploration.

Untapped hydro-power potential, energy, trade, tourism, soft-power are the key area that needs to be explored under trilateral cooperation– in a mutually beneficial way for all.

India must act beyond the zero-sum game mentality at least in its backyard– contrary to its own foreign policy reorientation ‘neighborhood first policy.’ Indeed, the cooperation with healthy competition between India and China is essential not only in Nepal, basically for the whole South Asia and Asia Pacific region– in order to boost regional peace, security and prosperity.

The constructive engagement of all the parties from the beginning is pre-requisite– reaching out for logical consensus and to ensure ownership of such initiative. For now initiative of trilateral cooperation can be regarded as just the beginning of the end , India at least need to show her willingness for exploring the possibility of such cooperation in greater details– approaching and being assured that her genuine concern will be dealt with in the due process of such cooperation.

In the scenario of certain kind of consensus among political parties and strategic sphere, Nepal need to seriously work in the extensive level to push trilateral cooperation forward– receiving trust and confidence with the assurance of addressing their genuine respective security concerns vis-à-vis Nepal. With serious homework at home and also rightly analyzing the international power politics – wisely choosing right time and place for forwarding trilateral cooperation can be contemplate as a new avenue for redefining Nepal’s foreign policy– accomplishing its aspiration becoming the vibrant bridge between the two giant neighbors.

Published On: October 25,2016                               

(KC holds Master’s in International Relations from Warsaw University, Poland)    



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