By Su Tan (Global Times, 27 Nov 2017) – Nepalis went to the polls for a new parliament on Sunday in the first round of a two-phase election that is expected to turn the country from a monarchy to a federal republic. More than 15 million eligible voters will elect a 275-member legislature and choose representatives for seven provincial assemblies. The second round of polls will be held on December 7. The winner of the historic election will be able to shape new state institutions and eventually decide on the country’s new president.
However, apparently the Indian media has read too much into the polls. It interpreted the election as an “India-China battle at the ballot box” that will “determine whether India continues to be the decisive and dominant actor in the country, or whether Nepal’s shift northward toward China deepens,” the Hindustan Times wrote.
Whatever the outcome will be, Nepal’s relations with India “will remain a priority” for Kathmandu, said the Economic Times.
It’s strange to come to this conclusion. Since Nepal is an independent country, why would the polls be a battle between its two neighbors?
Apparently, by saying so, the Indian media has underlined its deep-rooted thinking that Nepal should be within its sphere of influence. New Delhi has long deemed that Kathmandu, which relies heavily on its neighbor for gasoline supplies, is a client state. It takes for granted that Nepal will do whatever is ordered. Any sign of defiance can prompt India to take whatever means it can to bring its smaller neighbor back. A case in point is New Delhi’s undeclared blockade in September 2015 due to dissatisfaction with Nepal, which tremendously affected Nepal and its economy.
However, things have changed. China’s fast development, especially the implementation of the Belt and Road initiative, has brought opportunities to Nepal. China has become Nepal’s biggest investor. The jointly developed Upper Marsyangdi-A Hydroelectric Project has greatly helped to ease the power shortages in Nepal. China has also provided massive assistance to its neighbor in a variety of fields with no political strings attached. All these have well served the interests of Nepalis and naturally bolstered China’s influence in Nepal.
Nevertheless, China has never intended to vie with India for influence in Nepal, nor does it need to do so. After all, the Sino-Nepali relationship thrives as a result of mutual respect and win-win cooperation, not by coercion.
While India claims it has become a responsible regional power, it should first consider the reality of Nepal and divert its intensive attention to helping Nepal’s development rather than competing with China.
A change of India’s mentality will do good to all three countries and the whole region.
This article first appeared in Global Times.