One of the reasons Indo-Pacific advocates are focused on Nepal is due to our strategic importance, so distinctive for global power’s attention
Although Nepal has the best of both worlds she is still found to be suffering from economic backwardness, shaky political transition, rampant corruption, longstanding unmet aspirations of people and their spillovers all around. This situation invites “world powers” to assist us but also make us address their interests.
Indo-Pacific Strategy, by its very name, refers to the initiative of creating a new balance of power in South and South East Asia with eyes on Indian and Pacific region. How Nepal can take advantage of this is still unclear. One of the reasons Indo-Pacific advocates are focusing on Nepal is due to our strategic importance so distinctive for global power’s attention, which obstinately thinks that all neighbors of China should be persistently engaged due to latter’s rise. Although, no country in the world can remain unattached with global superpower playoffs and strategic competition regardless of their domestic despondency, dragging us in this multipart scenario is altogether unhealthy. Nepal will have to stand firm by balancing these two competing powers, without getting involved in any political interest.
The US remains the most powerful country with long dominance in international order in the region. It has begun to perceive China as a challenge because of its economic miracle and military might. The US and other Western power radars are trying to find ways and means to degrade the ‘dragon’s’ rising intensity and are hopeful to achieve this by prodding into their internal matters. Western analysts’ claim that if China secures all strategic maritime littorals and some islands in Southeast Asia and South China it will bring further instability in the region. This is why countries in South China and South East Asia have been given a readymade agenda for their maritime and land border disputes to create a perpetual friction, making region’s seas and airspace more contested.
The US and her allies see “freedom of navigation” as a tool to influence the region to suit their interests and bother “dragon” by portraying a chaotic and unhealthy consequence in the absence of their style of democracy and human rights.
If China feels any disturbance in the narrow bottleneck of the Strait of Malacca in any pretext it could greatly reduce its existing trade. India aimed to have her “Act East Policy” in the oceanic region for converging interests with the US and their allies are playing to put more weight in the initiative in the region and South China Sea (SCS). For growing energy needs and shipping, China will protect her interests in the most contested geostrategic space. This is why countries in the region should identify where they should stand.
US Secretary Mike Pompeo’s endorsement of Nepal’s key role in Indo-Pacific strategy seems vague except in trying to create a clout against China. Recent Raisina Dialogue in Delhi had discussed shared interests of the importance of freedom of navigation and unobstructed lawful commerce, as well as the resolution of maritime disputes by diplomatic means, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Seemingly, all this is directed toward China.
The US allies generally share US anxiety of losing global governance due to China’s rise. There are two most obvious reasons for this. One, the region finds itself at the crossroads of a potential power transition between a reigning superpower and a rising one. Two, China, with other partners on board, is throwing more weight in the international affairs. In Indo-Pacific region, China and the US could try to influence many countries to meet their political, economic and security interests which might result in a “power clash” so famously described by Thucydides in 460 BC. May be more countries will listen to China than US in the days to come. Who knows?
Know their intentions
In this situation, Nepal should carefully analyze their intentions and should even be able to say no to their vested interests, if any. Western powers think Nepal as a part of their strategic shift. India is openly expressing its political concern. This smacks of vested interests.
We recently received a kind of warning note from the UN body on our transitional justice process. Bad governance and sluggish economic development is slowly giving space for the foreign influence to erode our national standing. And we are not being able to say ‘no’ to such influence.
Foreign interests on issues related to secularism, ethnicity, constitution, transitional justice, Madhes and Tibetan refugees are becoming glaring. Wisdom lies in not letting them imposing their strategic concern in these issues.
Identifying core interest and prioritizing our economy and growth by tapping into the potentials of connectivity, technology transfer, financial integration and diverse investments from Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) can be a game changer for Nepal if we wisely use these opportunities for our benefits.
President Bidya Devi Bhandari is in China. Let’s hope many dots will be connected soon.
The author, former Spokesperson of Nepal Army, is a CEO of Nepal Institute for Strategic Studies