If anything, Nepal - the land of Buddha and Sagarmatha plus more than 120 ethnic communities and some four score languages - is, of late, at the centre of extra global focus. If news coverage were of any guide, much of the world might find this Himalayan country far off. Beneath the surface, let it not go unnoticed, the start of struggle among major powers in connection with their perception of global space and security is set in motion. Apparently carried away by speculation that Nepal, of late, might have developed closer relations with its next door neighbour China on the north, the self-styled Central Tibet Administration’s President Lobsang Sangay the other week warned Nepal, “Our country was occupied and you could be next.” From his camp in India, Sangay prefers blindness to the fact that Nepal is among the 23 oldest independent states, unlike India which, in 1947, unshackled from seven centuries of foreign rule. As far as development rewards are concerned, Chinese Autonomous Region of Tibet’s economic status is better than most states in Asia and Africa. Its 3 million people’s living standards outshine those in any of the eight South Asian countries, and registered a GDP at 9 per cent last year, estimated at $23 billion. During the same period, as many as 52,000 urban jobs were created, limiting the unemployment rate at 3 per cent. Of note is that all the major rivers, including the Karnali, Kali Gandaki, Budhi Gandaki, Trishuli, Sunkoshi, Bhotekoshi, Tamakoshi and Arun, originate in Tibet. Nepal and China have agreed on utilising and protecting their cross-border rivers on the principle of equality and mutual benefit, with a pledge to ensure that these rivers did not change their courses. According to a 2009 report, some 46 per cent of the flow in the Ganga River in India arrives through Nepal’s major rivers, whose contribution during the lean season is more than 70 per cent.
Tight spot China’s President Xi Jinping stresses on habrbouring no desire to export his country’s political system, which reassures especially smaller states within and beyond the neighbourhood. Since the bloody brawl involving Nepal’s two neighbours broke out in the Galwan Valley on June 15, jingoistic elements in India through communication outlets are making outrageous claims in a crude attempt at stemming steep fall in public morale. Hu Xijing, editor of China’s Global Times, gives a blunt message, “In this conflict, the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) has dealt a heavy blow to India’s ambition of encroaching on China's territory. The PLA has taught a lesson to the Indian side, which has always misjudged Chinese people’s determination and advantages. Don't mess with the PLA. That is our stern warning to those who want to challenge China's core interests.” Xi has convinced his Filipino counterpart Rodrigo Duterte of the need for a negotiated settlement over a string islands over which several states have competing claims. Enthusiastic about the proposed Code of Conduct in the South China Sea negotiations, Duterte’s travels to China averages every six months since he took office. China is the second largest source of foreign tourists in that archipelago, with as many as 1.2 million Chinese visiting it annually prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, the United States-led NATO has expanded eastward and inspired movements of discontent in some of the members in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Russia considers this a blatant move to check its influence in that region. This has led to boosting the bonds between China and Russia that share long stretches of common borders.In 2012, British Prime Minister David Cameron failed to gauge Beijing’s sensitivity when he received the Dalai Lama at 10 Downing Street. Beijing’s subsequent resentment cast a pall over Cameron’s planned visit to China. To make amendments, London quickly assured Beijing that it would modify its behaviour in future, and the prime minister was formally invited to China in 2013. Two years later, brushing aside Washington’s decree to its allies, Britain joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as one of the founding members precisely because it saw rich dividends from the partnership.
Emerging equations Nations that fail to read the writing on the wall will regret their failure to adapt with unstoppable changes. Tracing the roots of its ties with Russia, India has begun discussion on fresh supply of arms and other defence equipment from Moscow in the wake of the Sino-Indian border skirmishes last month. This underscores the bind between the two countries somewhat reminiscent of the days when India signed a treaty with the now-disintegrated Soviet Union in 1971, on the eve of the Indo-Pakistan war in East Pakistan that emerged as independent Bangladesh. The 20-year treaty with Moscow was inked when China was a developing and rigidly communist country not yet occupying its legitimate seat on the United Nations Security Council. Today, China is world’s No. 2 economy, with a record 129 Chinese companies figuring in the “Fortune Global 500” list. At the same time, Beijing is involved in disputes with several countries over chains of islands in the South China Sea. Washington sees the situation as the communist regime’s soft spot, though the latter has stalled acceleration of loud protests from other claimants after President of Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines opted for settling the conflict through quiet negotiations. The expanding Sino-Russian trade ties and close understanding in many key international issues in West Asia and elsewhere suggest that either New Delhi will have to adjust to nearby neighbours or risk the untested waters in the West. When compelled to make a choice, Moscow might find it prudent to stand with Beijing than with its one-time close ally that had maintained relations with Moscow, which can only be described as correct. Addressing a Sino-American forum on Thursday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi described the existing Sino-American relationship as undergoing a serious crisis. This does not bode well for the world in general and China’s neighbour like Nepal. In South Asia, nuclear power Pakistan, which borders the two most populous nations, has been engaged in at least three major wars with fellow non-aligned India since the time of their birth in 1947 as independent states from the British colonial claws. Such being the competitive and complex international political landscape together with the sharpening big power spotlight in this part of the world, Nepal faces the complex challenge of maintaining a delicate balance in its conduct of foreign policy. In other words, the task is indeed an exacting one.
(Professor P. Kharel specialises in political communication.)