By Gopal Khanal (KATHMANDU, 26 November 2020) – Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla is arriving in Nepal for a two-day official visit on Thursday, November 26. Shringla’s visit follows the recent trips of Indian intelligence and military chiefs, who directly report to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The foreign secretaries of Nepal and India are scheduled to formally hold dialogue on the whole gamut of bilateral relations, including the territorial dispute in Nepal’s far-west.
The visits of Chief of India’s External Intelligence Agency (RAW), Samanta Goel and Army Chief Manoj Mukunda Naravane have created much-needed convenience for bilateral talks for which Nepal had been requesting India since the latter’s cartographic encroachment of Nepal’s land. Nepal and India both simultaneously announced the visit of Shringla on 23 November and interpreted it as an important aspect of close and friendly neighbours.
It is obvious that India and China are effortful to extend their influences in their vicinity. They, however, have adopted widely divergent policy: India has allegedly been interfering in the domestic affairs of others with its unsolicited moves and condescending behaviours while China has relatively distanced itself from the internal matters of its neighours but is quietly influencing them through its soft actions. Beijing has constantly been watching developments in Kathmandu and its relations with the southern neighbour.
Coincidence or strategic ?
It can be just a coincidence or strategic that the Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe is arriving in Kathmandu two days after the visit of Indian foreign secretary. China’s Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi is coordinating the visit from Chinese side, for which she held meetings with the concerned officials of Nepal government, including Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who is also Defence Minister. But, some have interpreted her meeting with Prime Minister wrongly. The proactive moves of Chinese ambassador at the crucial domestic development have been controversial but this shouldn’t be seen as China’s interference in the domestic affairs of Nepal. The reality is that the Chinese leaders have a common view on Nepal Communist Party. They normally say the NCP should not be split arguing that stability is the key to the economic development. The CPC leaders have the similar approach to other political parties, too.
Indian foreign secretary’s visit is a maiden trip to Nepal after he was appointed to the post. However, all the bilateral issues between Nepal and India should be discussed during his meeting with his Nepali counterpart.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs said that Shringla’s visit to Nepal is continuation of the tradition of regular high-level exchanges between the two countries and the priority India attaches to its relations with Nepal. The MEA said the visit will be an opportunity to further advance bilateral ties. In recent years, bilateral cooperation has strengthened, with several major infrastructure and cross-border connectivity projects completed with India’s assistance, it said. Shringla will hand over medical items to Nepal to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
This visit is expected to reset Nepal-India relations after it reached the lowest ebb following the publication of maps by the both sides. Nepal and India are holding first formal dialogue on the issue of Limpiyadhura, Lipulek and Kalapani, which belong to Nepal but encroached by India since 1962. India should be ready to return these areas to Nepal on the basis of historical evidences. Shringla is likely to share his government’s position on the matter and will pave the way for further high-level negotiation.
Meanwhile, Chinese Defence Minister Wei will be the first high-ranking Chinese official to visit Nepal since Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip in October last year. General Wei, a former rocket force commander of PLA, is the member Central Military Commission chaired by President Xi.
Wei is scheduled to participate in some of the programmes to be organised by Nepal-China friendship organisations to mark the 65th anniversary of Nepal-China diplomatic relations and hold meetings with Nepali political leaders, including his counterpart.
The visit also coincides with the changing global strategic alliances between India, the US and other regional powers in the Asia Pacific region like Japan, South Korea and Australia, which have hardened their position to counter Chinese influence. There have been reports that victory of Democratic Party’s Joe Biden in the US presidential elections won’t change its policy towards China.
Nepal seeks to deal with both the rising power of its neighbourhood separately and doesn’t want to convert the bilateral issues into trilateral one, but if needed, it can play a key role for forging trilateral partnership for common development. Nepal welcomes every high level delegation of India and China in Kathmandu and leaves no stone unturned for making them a great success. Nepal doesn’t provide its space to them for playing against each other.
Nepal’s declared policy is non-alignment that negates its involvement in any military alliance or strategic bloc. But it does not want to stay neutral on the matters of democracy and dignity. India and China can be friendly or hostile at any point of time with their trade-off over border dispute but Nepal’s relation with them would not be affected by their enmity or amity. Nepal has formally asked for trilateral cooperation in building up major infrastructure projects equally benefitting three countries, but it doesn’t compel them to execute.
Nepal is aware that there has been the unfair competition between India and China to keep Nepal under their influence, but it rejects the interference of any sort. Therefore, Nepal is not biased against any neighbour, it wants friendly relations with all. The visits of top Indian and Chinese officials to Nepal aim to boost relations with Nepal. This diplomatic ruckus amply suggests Nepal’s growing geopolitical importance in the region.
This article first appeared in The Rising Nepal