Joint military exercise
The first-ever joint military exercise between Nepal and China that kicked off in Kathmandu on Sunday is a milestone. Until now, Nepal had held such military drills only with the US and India.
China was a curious omission considering its enormous strategic importance for Nepal, next only to India. But it isn’t hard to discern that there has been added impetus on strengthening Nepal-China relations, from both the sides, after last year’s border blockade. In its aftermath, the government of KP Oli signed historic trade and transit agreements with China, which for the first time allowed Nepal a direct passage to the sea via Chinese territories. According to another agreement, Nepal would henceforth import a third of its fuel needs from the northern neighbor, again breaking India’s monopoly. It is true that following the ouster of Oli and his replacement by Pushpa Kamal Dahal as prime minister some of the momentum on strengthening Nepal-China ties was lost. Unhappy with Nepal’s lackluster commitment to implement recent bilateral deals, China even cancelled the planned Nepal visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping. The start of the joint military exercises between Nepal and Chinese armies will, hopefully, give new impetus to the stalled Nepal-China ties.
The joint military drills also carry a huge symbolic value. For Nepal, it is an unmistakable way of asserting its sovereign and independent status before the rest of the world. We are saying to the outside world that Nepal does not accept the characterization of it falling under the ‘sphere of influence’ of this or that country and our planners and policymakers will do what they deem is in the country’s best interest. This does not mean jumping from the democratic Indian camp to the communist Chinese camp; it is not in Nepal’s interest to be seen as unduly close to any of its two neighbors. Maintaining a calibrated balance between the influence of India and China in Nepal is rather the right strategy. Nor it is just a matter of India and China. Our army already conducts joint military exercises with the US. There is no reason it cannot do the same with powerful European countries like Germany and France and even Asian giants like Japan. The pursuit of diplomacy through armed forces has also become vital because more and more countries these days face common trans-national problems like terrorism and insurgency.
It is clear that the only way the world will be able to effectively deal with the growing global threat of terrorism is through extensive sharing of logistics and intelligence among security agencies. This is why even the latest Nepal-China joint military drills focus on counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency. Security forces are also deployed around the world in post-disaster rescue and rebuilding exercises, and here too they have a lot to learn from each other. Perhaps Nepal Army can share its role in post-earthquake scenario in Nepal and how the army helps with the country’s major infrastructure projects. In return, such military exercises will also allow our army to learn a lot from its foreign counterparts. Nepal’s military engagements with the rest of the world, China included, are not directed against any particular country. They are rather motivated by a cool-headed calculation of Nepal’s interests and this calculation is not influenced by anyone. It is important for Nepal’s friends to understand this.