KATHMANDU, May 15: While trying to allay concerns raised from various quarters that Nepal was pushed into its Indo-Pacific strategy—a move widely seen as an attempt to counter China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)--, a senior US State Department official has said that his country is not asking Nepal to be “for” the US or “against” any other country.
Visiting Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia David J Ranz dismissed suggestion that US was exerting pressure on Nepal to be part of its Indo-Pacific strategy, thereby making this Himalayan nation to choose US over other countries. “Our approach to the Indo-Pacific is not about imposing our agenda on other countries or asking them to side with us rather than other neighbors. The United States is not asking Nepal to be “for” the United States or “against” any other country,” he said.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Ranz said the Indo-Pacific Strategy was just a strategy that tries to promote an international system in which a rules-based order enables countries to make informed decision on what is best for them. “We are asking Nepal to be “for” the principles that have already helped Nepal and the Indo-Pacific region prosper—principles like freedom, good governance, and transparency—and to be vigilant and outspoken against anyone who violates those principles and norms,” he said.
Talking to a group of journalist in the capital on Tuesday, Ranz mentioned that the US commitment of $500 million through the Millennium Challenge Corporation to develop road and hydroelectric transmission were examples of the projects being undertaken under Indo-Pacific Strategy. “When combined with the government's contribution of $130 million, this will be a truly transformative project that will return benefits to Nepalis for generations,” he said while talking of US support under Indo-Pacific Strategy.
Stating that the US provides about $200 million to Nepal every year in the form of grant, Ranz asked not to cast doubt about the commitment of the US to help Nepal's development endeavors. “There should be no doubt about the United States' commitment to Nepal and the type of investments we bring. When the United States invests, we do so in a manner that is sustainable, transparent, and that brings real benefits to the Nepali people,” he said.
Although he did not mention anything about BRI projects, Ranz's remarks come at a time when a section of analysts arguing that mega projects that Nepal is hoping to develop through loan under China's BRI could push the country into a debt trap.
“…our assistance arrives in the form of grants, supported by the generosity of the American taxpayer, and not in the form of loans designed to return a profit to others and increase Nepal's indebtedness,” he said, while hinting those concerns in Nepal.
Ranz arrived in Nepal earlier this week for an internal conference on air quality co-sponsored by the State Department's Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs in cooperation with our Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science, and the US Embassy in Kathmandu. During his meeting with senior government officials, Ranz had urged the Nepali side to honor international sanctions against North Korea, while restricting all forms of investment and other activities of North Koreans in Nepal.
Ranz said he is also holding discussions with Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa on border security issues that include installing sophisticated software system at immigration checkpoints.
The US has been urging Nepali side to install the Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES), a border control database system largely based on biometrics developed by a US-based software company.
Ranz said they had conversation with the Nepali officials on what they could do to support Nepal government both in terms of potential infrastructure or in terms of technical assistance as well as information sharing.
The installation of PISCES, Ranz said, would pave way for US and Nepal to share information that might be of concern to them.