By Pradeep Gyawali (NEW DELHI, 11 January 2019) –
Let me start by thanking the Ministry of External Affairs of India and the Observer Research Foundation for giving me this honour. It is a rare privilege to share my humble thoughts before this distinguished audience.
In its fourth year, Raisina Dialogue has become a great platform for churning of innovative ideas.
Generation and dissemination of ideas has been the outstanding tradition of our region. This region was once the wonderful home of the greatest among human civilizations, far advanced in research, innovation, ingenuity and intellectual artifact reflecting the rich tradition of “वादे वादे जायते तत्वबोधः” or “through discourse, essence can be extracted.”.
When science and scientific thinking was little known to the world, this region had already produced Vedas and Vedanta; when idea of modern statecraft was still in nascent stage elsewhere, this region had already brought up Arthashastra; when human-centred thoughts were yet to be born, this region already prided itself on Buddhism, the core massage of which is the peace, happiness and welfare of humanity. The uniqueness of ideational pattern of our region is the unwavering conviction on social harmony, discipline, order and larger public good.
Much has been said about the changing world order, the shifting paradigm of the world politics, and the rapidly transforming geopolitical milieu around us. Without repeating what scholars and practitioners have already thrashed out so profusely, I wish to make a modest attempt to touch on a couple of questions: what the changing world scenario means for a relatively small country like Nepal, for our neighbourhood and the region; and what kind of global and regional arrangements we would like to see. While doing this, I will also touch upon some aspects of Nepal-India relations today and what these relations would mean for the region and beyond.
Attributes that characterized the world order in the past decades are now covered in the mist of uncertainty. Globalization has been challenged by the very people, who once stood as its determined proponents. Free flow of people, I mean the working people, in fact never happened as restrictions of various nature continued and such restrictions have further been reinforced. What globalization effectively meant was the free flow of goods and services of those who could produce. This pillar of trade globalization seems to be getting shaken today.
Globalization: we may have liked it or not. It has its pros and cons sides. But one thing is true: under globalization, countries were able to uplift unprecedented number of their people out of drudging poverty. Trade exponentially grew; industries expanded; value chains were set up; millions of jobs were created, including in developing countries; and economies were transformed. This was not a small achievement by any means.
There were small players like us who could not reap the full benefits of globalization. We consistently demanded that a level playing field had to be created; an enabling environment had to be there for all to prosper; and the growing economic disparity must be addressed. We continued to voice that no country should be left behind in this historic march towards prosperity. We demanded reform, but we never sought alternative of globalization; never opposed rules-based arrangements of global trade.
Today, the same arrangements face big questions not from us but from the big players, in whose ideas the arrangements were rooted.
Today, technological advancement has brought us closer than ever before and made us more known to each other; but in the mindset, we are getting farther and the border that surrounds us is getting tighter.
Today, the world has become more peaceful than before, but still military expenditure has soared up higher than ever: expenditure that could otherwise have gone for development.
While the world is becoming more interdependent, the challenges ahead require to be addressed with more collective efforts. These include challenges posed by the growing tendencies to weaken multilateralism and collaboration.
While the humankind is making progress to understand and predict the dynamics and adjust with the rule of nature, ironically, we are creating such a situation where unpredictability is prevailing and pre-set rules are being shaken.
What triggered today’s anti-globalization wave? Was it the 2008 financial crisis and its associated impacts on day-to-day life in the developed world? Was it the Brexit referendum? Was it some of the ‘costly wars’? If yes, could these have been avoided? Could the respective leaderships have taken an alternative decision that would yield results otherwise? Does leadership just mean catering to the short-term public sentiments or do leaders have responsibility to sway public opinion for a better result and a more collective welfare? Does the world today seriously lack statecraft required to keep things in better order and organized way? These questions are set to irk us as we embark onto this fluid and uncertain transition.
Uncertain because the existing world order stands challenged and the new order is yet to take shape.
Uncertain because the nature, definition and structure of world power is changing but the new power equation does not seem to be fully acknowledged.
Uncertain because the old alignments are fading and the new ones, at times of hitherto unthought kind, seem to be emerging, which are yet to stand solid and as durable.
Uncertain because there is a growing skepticism about tenacity of what was once deemed as universalism and universal values and the alternative values are yet to take shape.
Uncertain because there are still believers in good number that the current wave against globalization and liberal world order could just be transient and we would all soon return to the same ‘normalcy’.
Anyway, geopolitical contest is today’s reality and economy is at the heart of this contest. Unlike in the past, today it is less of ideological divide, more of who gains from what sort of trade and economic arrangements. And such contest has at times tended towards the zero sum game of harming each other. One good thing about today’s contest is that unlike in the past there is less threat of interstate military warfare. Not so good thing, however, is that the contest has sometimes been pungent.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Small countries do not have resources and capacity to be engaged in such geopolitical contestation.
A country like Nepal has always been a firm advocate of rules-based, predictable international order. We are a believer in multilateralism, where we can get our voices heard; problems and challenges recognized; and support be extended. Small countries may not have adequate strength and competence to engage in bilateral deals with bigger players and this is why they cherish the cushion provided by collective negotiations in multilateral and regional forums. Rules-based order is essential for our survival.
We have always been supporter of multilateral institutions like the United Nations. What we have wanted, though, is its reform to reflect the current realities.
We have always supported rules-based trading arrangements under WTO. What we have wanted is a meaningful preferential treatment to less capable, least developed countries like us so that we can catch up.
We have constructively participated in the existing global economic architecture and have demanded that such architecture should be inclusive, democratic and enabling for the most resource-constrained countries. We have stressed that gaps and deprivation must be addressed.
Nearer in the region, we have always been a campaigner for greater regional integration. We stand for strengthening SAARC and BIMSTEC and the implementation of the agendas of BBIN sub-regional cooperation.
Next door, we have always emphasized on the importance of good and harmonious relations between our two big neighbours. When these two rise together, the rise of Asia becomes unstoppable. We were encouraged, in this context, by the positive vive that last year’s Wuhan summit created. We are of the view that one country’s rise should not be seen as a threat to the other. It could be an opportunity to rise together. The only thing is that right sort of arrangement for rising together has to be there and leaders in the region are capable of getting that ensured.
Having possessed a third of the Earth’s landmass and almost two thirds of the world population, mostly young and energetic, Asia is the fascinating combination of economic strength, demography and unique value system. And with the developed and prosperous Asia, the world will be transformed because this will mean the end of the largest chunk of world poverty.
Cognizant of the fact that we can work together in neighbourhood for our mutual benefit and common prosperity, we have been emphasizing the need of a trilateral partnership between our three countries. Such partnership would entail working together for better physical connectivity, deeper economic linkages and greater people-to-people connections.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Nepal pursues an independent foreign policy. Our conduct of external relations is based on a balanced and independent outlook, which is rooted in the historical fact that we were among the few countries that always remained independent, free from any sort of colonial rule. The 28 million Nepali people harbour today an abounding sense of national pride and patriotism.
Patriotism that does not have ill will against anyone: our people have always demonstrated great degree of resilience in times of difficulties and their confidence was never shaken. Amity with all and enmity with none is our motto in foreign policy. We seek to foster relations with neighbours and all friendly countries around the world based on justice, sovereign equality, trust, mutual respect and benefit.
Nepal is a peace loving country and shuns any kind of military alliance.
In this august forum where we are talking about world’s transformation, I feel tempted to share with you the transformation of historic proportion that Nepal has been able to achieve in the past few years. Unlike the current global transformation towards fluidity and uncertainty, ours has been transformation towards stability and predictability. With the making of a democratic and inclusive constitution in 2015 and subsequent formation of strong elected governments in the centre, provinces and local levels, Nepal has entered into a new phase, where our main quest is growth, development and prosperity.
Past two decades were challenging time for Nepal. First the country went through a decade long armed conflict and then long transition marked by uncertainty about how we are to seek a constitutional settlement of conflicting political perspectives. Success of peace process depended on our ability to reach this settlement. We finally did it thanks to the prudence of our political leadership, perseverance of our people and support and solidarity from international community. We were mindful of the cost of instability: our development was pushed back; we remained in stagnation while others advanced.
Now under Prime Minister Oli’s leadership, we are committed to work in such speed that would enable us to make up for the two lost decades. We have set a development vision with the slogan of ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepalis’. We have the potential and what we need is resources and technology.
We are known for richness in water resource, which we are yet to convert into hydropower; we are known for natural beauty and cultural diversity, due to which our tourism industry is growing.
We are aware that single-handedly we cannot reach the destination of prosperity. We must seek support from our development partners from around the world, including our rising neighbours.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
India is our close neighbour, with whom Nepal’s relations have been comprehensive and multifaceted. Our economic partnership is robust and has a long history. India is our biggest trading partner, source of FDI and a main transit country. We are connected by geography as well as history, by our religions as well as culture.
Apart from taking effective measures for the implementation of all the agreements and understandings reached in the past, we have common understanding on the need for reinvigorating the existing bilateral mechanisms to promote cooperative agenda across diverse spheres.
Our enhanced engagements at different levels, in particular in recent times, have contributed to taking the bilateral relations to newer heights.
We cherish India’s progress and prosperity. Its accomplishments in many spheres are notable. The wonderful journey of India as a major economic powerhouse is an inspiration for many people around the world and more so in our neighbourhood.
To increase the flow of goods and augment trade between our two countries, we are focused on investing in infrastructures and streamline procedures. We are aware that cross-border connectivity is very important to unleash development potentials and to spur growth.
The importance of connectivity cannot be overemphasized for a landlocked country like ours. With India, we are advancing connectivity by railway and waterways. When I talk about connectivity I recall what Prime Minister Modiji eloquently highlighted, during one of his visits to Nepal, as the HIT formula (highways, information ways and transmission ways). We appreciate in this context a recent positive step taken by India towards making cross border trade of electricity possible. Given Nepal’s hydropower potential and investors’ interest in it, it has long been our demand that cross border trade of electricity be opened up just like other tradable commodities.
Back to the world geopolitics again, there is no denial that we all have our respective fundamental national interests that we cannot compromise on. At the end of the day in electoral democracy, we must answer to our people, serve them best and make them happy. It is equally true, however, that there are issues beyond our respective border that we cannot tackle in isolation: issues which our domestic audience is not necessarily aware of and for this reason require correct guidance from leadership. Past experience tells us that global challenges require global solution. At a time when the number and intensity of such challenges have grown manifold, thinking of the world as one is all the more required.
Climate change is one such colossal problem of our time that is staring at us and challenging us if we have the strength, conviction and collective will to find a solution. Reports after reports have forewarned of impending disaster and called for immediate actions. It is disheartening, therefore, particularly for small, vulnerable, resource constrained and least prepared countries like us, to see that the fate of Paris Agreement looms in uncertainty.
Our report card of the Millennium Development Goals was a sort of mixed. We did well with some of the goals while progress in other areas remained illusive. Without collective actions, SDGs will not fare better. Partnership for development is a critical aspect of realization of these internationally determined goals. We are, therefore, concerned about the shrinking development assistance.
As I already said, advancement in information and communication technology has tremendously benefitted us in many ways. This has made us more connected and made us more informed. This advancement has not come without challenge. How are we prepared to address today’s cyber anxiety? Cyber or satellite collapse? As a byproduct of ICT appears the challenge of fake news and propaganda. Information empowers people; misinformation betrays. How are we going to enable our people to rightly filter between information and misinformation?
Likewise, how we are going to tackle the challenges associated with the most contemporary scientific advancements? Robots have started to perform many of the jobs humans did in the past. How are we going to create alternative jobs for our people? Are we all prepared for half men, half robot kind of working environment? How shall we address the chasm that will possibly be created among us by Artificial Intelligence? How are we going to manage the possible unmanned military capability?
New forces of division in the form of sectarian violence, religious extremism and terrorism are gaining ground posing huge threat to individual liberty, democratic institutions and rule of law. Are we able to overcome these without collective efforts?
Growing volume of world trade is taking place over the water. How we are going to make the oceans safer? How are we going to prevent maritime conflict? How are we going to ensure that landlocked countries get better access to sea for trade and transit?
Challenges the world faces today are too big and too many to be overcome by our lone efforts. History is our witness. There has always been a positive correlation between our collective efforts and world’s peace and prosperity. Such efforts are more required today.
Let us, therefore, be prepared to correct our obsession with short-term gains and think in a larger perspective of long-term collective welfare.
Let us contribute to build bridges rather than barriers.
Let us act in synergy rather than in isolation.
Let us embrace fraternity rather than narrow communalism.
Let us aspire for a better world where we collectively work for common prosperity; a world which future generation can proudly inherit.
I thank you for your kind attention.
Remarks by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal, Pradeep Kumar Gyawali at Raisina Dialogue 2019, New Delhi
January 10, 2019