September 13, 2019 08:40 AM NPT
KATHMANDU, Sept 13: A sharp division has surfaced in the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) over the remark on the US-led Indo-Pacific Strategy made by Co-chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal during his meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Dahal had reportedly told Wang that Nepal “disapproves of the so-called Indo-Pacific strategy”.
While the leaders belonging to the erstwhile CPN (Maoist Center) and those close to Dahal have strongly supported his remark, leaders from the erstwhile CPN-UML have refrained from discussing the controversy in detail saying that Nepal has not changed its position on the Indo-Pacific Strategy.
Deputy chief of the party's Foreign Relations Department Ram Karki, who is considered close to Dahal, said there is no point in raising controversy about the remark made by Dahal with regard to the Indo-Pacific Strategy. “We are trying to obtain his [Dahal's] official statement. But it is our long-held policy that we do not ally with any strategic grouping. This is also the spirit of Nepal's foreign policy,” he said.
Karki argued that our neighbors come to the forefront in our foreign policy priority. “We want cordial relations with our neighbors. We are against any alliance that is aimed against any of our neighbors,” he said. “I have yet to learn what exactly he had said during the meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. But this is the official line of our party,” he further said.
However, Prime Minister KP Oli's foreign relations advisor Rajan Bhattarai and Minister for Communications and Information Technology Gokul Banskota said that the position of Nepal on Indo-Pacific strategy has not changed.
“No matter whether it is Indo-Pacific Strategy or Belt and Road Initiative or any other issue, we as a sovereign nation cautiously deal with our neighbors and other friends. This is what we have been doing. There has not been any deviation or change in our pre-established position [on this],” Minister Banskota told a press conference. He, however, refrained from making any further comment.
Although the government has been publicly stating that Nepal has not made any commitment to the Indo-Pacific strategy, US officials have been maintaining that Nepal is very much part of the strategy. All the financial and technical assistance US has been giving to Nepal in recent years, according to the US officials, are tied to the Indo-Pacific strategy.
A day after the Dahal's statement disapproving the Indo-Pacific strategy became public through statement issued by Chinese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday, US embassy in Kathmandu sought clarification from Nepal government if Dahal's remark reflected the government's position. US Ambassador to Nepal Randy Berry even met Foreign Secretary Shanker Das Bairagi to know about the government's position on Thursday.
During a meeting with Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali in Washington DC in December last year, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo had discussed about Nepal's “central role” in achieving the stated objectives of the Indo-Pacific Strategy. Although Gyawali later dismissed suggestions that Nepal had made any agreement to be a part of the US-led strategy, a section of people in Nepal suspect that Minister Gyawali and Nepal's ambassador to the US Arjun Karki could have made some commitment since the US government has been seeking clarification about the government's position when ruling party leaders make statement against the Indo-Pacific Strategy.