KATHMANDU – Following a series of high-level visits by US officials, it is now time for neighboring countries to send their emissaries. Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra is set to arrive in Kathmandu on Monday on a three-day official visit. According to reports, he will hand over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal for an official visit to India. This trip is significant since Prime Minister Dahal earlier said his first foreign trip will be to India.
After Dahal became prime minister, the US initiated a series of diplomatic visits to Nepal. Samantha Power, the head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), was in Kathmandu on February 7-8. Before her came Victoria Nuland, the US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs. According to reports, two other high-ranking US officials are expected to make trips to Nepal in the near future. These visits demonstrate the US’ policy of ”shuttle diplomacy” in Nepal.
Diplomatic visits play a crucial role in fostering positive relationships between countries and improving bilateral cooperation on various fronts. They help build a platform for political, economic and cultural exchanges, which further strengthen the ties between nations. Diplomatic visits are an essential aspect of effective international relations and can have a significant impact on the development and prosperity of countries like Nepal.
Frequent visits from the US and neighboring countries demonstrate their interest in the affairs of Nepal and their willingness to work toward mutually beneficial solutions at the surface. These visits as such provide opportunities for leaders to engage in discussions on key issues, explore new areas of cooperation, and establish a better understanding of each other’s perspectives.
Nepal’s location between two large and powerful countries, India and China, presents both opportunities and challenges for the country. On one hand, having close relations with both the countries can provide economic, political, and strategic leverage for Nepal. On the other, balancing relations between the two major powers can be a delicate task, which, if not handled carefully, can lead to negative consequences. No doubt, Nepal’s foreign policy has prioritized India and China, but it is also important to maintain relations with other friendly countries and entities, such as the US and the European Union.
It is notable that after Nepal’s parliament endorsed the US’ Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the US has further intensified its activities in Nepal, under which more financial support has been committed. The evidence is Power’s announcement of $60m assistance to Nepal this past week. Leaving aside the strategic element, it underscores the US’ commitment to supporting Nepal’s efforts to strengthen its institutions and promote economic growth.
Strategic goals are obviously pursued during such visits, which need a high level of confidence. As Nepal witnessed a dramatic power shift that kept the Nepali Congress out of power, the US may have experienced political shock, raising doubts over the commitment of the Nepali Congress-led government under Sher Bahadur Deuba. These hasty visits demonstrated Washington’s willingness to engage with the new government like its predecessor.
Another reason is linked to the global ambition of the US to rule the world unilaterally, without any challenge from other power/s. The US’ Indo-Pacific Strategy is centered on containing China’s rise and maintaining the regional balance of power. By engaging with Nepal, the US may hope to counterbalance China’s growing influence in the region and secure its own strategic interests. But Nepal has a principled position of not allowing the use of Nepali territory against any neighbor/friendly country. All political parties and governments have taken ownership of this policy.
One thing appears to be self-evident in this: Nepal is likely to experience geopolitical shocks in coming years. China is not the same as it was a decade ago. It has used “wolf-warrior diplomacy,” aiming to strike at the head of any power, including the US, when it feels threatened. China’s designation as a “peer rival” of America by the US authorities reflects Beijing’s rising involvement in global politics and diplomacy. Therefore, Nepal must execute its principled policy of non-alignment effectively by keeping external pressures at bay.
Washington’s recent actions in Nepal have prompted new responses from India and China. Both nations have reached out to Prime Minister Dahal, conveying their readiness to collaborate with Nepal’s new administration. India and China have taken equal steps in this regard. Against this backdrop, Indian Foreign Secretary Kwatra, who was in charge of the Nepal mission before his elevation, is visiting Nepal. Kwatra will have extensive discussions with Nepali government officials and leaders of major parties on various issues.
As Napoleon Bonaparte once said, the policy of a state lies in its geography. This maxim is relevant even today. Nepal’s relations with India and China cannot be compared with any other friendly country. The dynamics of Nepal-India relations cannot even be compared with Nepal-China relations. The Prime Minister should assure India that his government will maintain cordial relations that baseless pretexts won’t come in the way of bilateral relations. Nepal should raise genuine issues related to the border and facilitation of bilateral trade and economic cooperation. A high-level visit from China is sure to take place in the coming months and the Prime Minister will be invited to visit the northern neighbor. With China also, Nepal should articulate its priorities and try to address the genuine issues of China.