President Bidya Devi Bhandari is in Beijing to attend the second Belt and Road Forum (BRF) for International Cooperation happening on April 26-29. She addressed the forum and expected to oversee the signing of the Nepal-China Transit and Transport Agreement. Nepal has already signed the BRI project and marked official move to become the soft partner of Beijing’s ambitious mega project. Nepal signing of ten agreements in various sectors during Prime Minister Oli’s visit to China in 2016 and consequently being granted access to four Chinese seaports, for trading with third country, has been a new beginning in Nepal-China strategic relations. The soft partnership in BRI project and rail and road connectivity with China may leave a profound impact on Nepal’s bi-lateral relations with China.
Nepal-China proximity or Nepal-India proximity should not be a threat to either
While, India refused to attend this forum. The refusal by India to be a part of BRI may be conspicuous as much as it is now by refusing Nepal’s ‘Zone of Peace’ Proposal back in 1975. This denial may leave profound space to be cynic once again and evoke why India disengaged in BRI prospect that was signed by 124 countries from South Asia to Central Asia to Middle East to Europe or why refused to support Nepal’s Zone of Peace proposal even when that was signed by more than 120 countries around the Globe?
‘Zone of Peace’ was the strategic policy adopted by Nepal. Nepal has to revive the ‘Zone of Peace’ Proposal and forward in International Forum like BRF and others. This proposal has to be continued projecting the changing security scenario. Every nations in this world want peace as most of them have witnessed and experienced the cost of conflict. Nepal has acquired peace and political stability now. It has been maintaining neutral role in most of the regional conflicts and aiming for economic prosperity. So Nepal deserves to be a peaceful nation, has to accentuate for regional peace and nobly reiterate for the world peace.
National Interest Matters
Nepal has to promote its National Interest based on the available policy instruments and their options. Nepal can adopt principled foreign policy, use the power of persuasive diplomacy and design cooperative security and economic architecture by using regional and international instruments.
This nation is being often assumed to be a virtual partner in the past where some major powers projected it as their strategic partner for specific containment to one over another. For instance, projection of Nepal in the front line leadership on Indo-Pacific Strategic Partnership, or inclusion as a partner in BIMSTEC military drill, or soft partnership in BRI project all show Nepal’s possible exploitation for their respective containment strategy. Instead, Nepal has to equally leverage from all the powers by maintaining its relations through the diplomacy of ‘Equi-proximity’.
Nepal has to ever maintain balanced, harmonious and equi-proximity relation with its immediate neighbors. Nepal has never gone below or above an inch of the spirit of the UN Charter and the Principles of Peaceful Co-existence or even beyond the norms of International Law and Trade. This balanced, friendly and neutral status is the only ‘National Interest’ of Nepal besides keeping nationality at the center, protecting its own sovereignty, safeguarding territorial integrity and achieving the economic prosperity.
There is no nation in this world without having ‘National Interest’. Yet, the concern is whether one’s national interest is jeopardizing the economy, security and sovereignty of another? China does have national interest where it has aimed for economic superiority under BRI project. However, China has projected BRI as a mutually exclusive and win-win project, as reiterated by President XI, where every participating country are expected to benefit through multiple aspects of cooperation such as- economic, developmental, diplomatic, connectivity, social, cultural or multi-cultural. Equally, all the partnered countries will have to be responsible for making this mega project a grand success under their respective national interest.
Since China is aiming for economic superiority, India is endlessly worrying of security and Nepal is passionately aiming for economic prosperity. All of these concerns can be addressed only through the process of economic integration and regional cohesion. After all, Economic integration through BRI would lead to peace and prosperity if the ideological differences are left aside.
Nepal-China relations are age old, deep rooted, historic and multi-faceted. The bilateral relations between Nepal and China have been marked by pragmatic understanding and respect for each other’s sensitivities with relentless faith on the ideals of the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence. On the other hand, Nepal-India ties are inseparable not only due to the geographical proximity but also because of historical affinity and contemporary needs. Historical and cultural affinity have had bonded the two nations together. And, the rising concern of security, connectivity and geo-economics has further strengthened the relations. Since, both China and India are closed with Nepal in terms of geo-graphic, social, cultural, economic and bilateral relations. Nepal has to maintain special relations with both the neighbors.
Nepal stands at a very important location in entire Asia. So Nepal can play strategic role by making both India and China realize the possible threats to their economy and security. Nepal’s security or lack thereof is going to affect the security of India and China because of Nepal’s geo-political proximity with both the countries. Nepal’s development, stability and security can leave profound impact in regional and global affairs.
Realizing these developments, potentials, possibilities and opportunities, Nepal, India and China have to set strategic vision to step ahead for trilateralism and maintain peace, prosperity, harmony, and sustainable high tech security and economic architecture in the region. China has already figured out the way it can move forward with Nepal in the best interests of both nations. And, Nepal expects the similar move from India. Consequently, Nepal-China proximity or Nepal-India proximity should not be a threat to either.
Because of the geo-political reality, the government in Nepal can neither go ‘pro-Chinese’ or ‘pro-Indians’. Instead, ‘Equi-proximity’ needs to be maintained with both the immediate neighbors. The concept of trilateralism need to be materialized by amalgamating the Chinese vision of creating ‘Community of Common Destiny’, Indian policy of ‘Neighborhood First’ and Nepalese diplomacy of ‘Equi-proximity’.
Acharya is a researcher and analyst who holds an M.Sc. in Computer Science, M.Sc. in Statistics, MPhil in Management (Studied) and M.A. in International Relations and Diplomacy (Research Progress).