February 16, 2017 12:45 AM NPT
Delay on OBOR project
In international diplomacy there is no such thing as pure goodwill. In today’s day and age, each and every country defines its foreign relations in terms of what it believes are in its interest, first and the foremost. Only then are concerns of other countries accommodated. The same is the case with China’s push on One-Belt-One-Road (OBOR) project.
Reportedly, China has repeatedly asked the government of Pushpa Kamal Dahal for its
position on the flagship economic project of Chinese President Xi Jinping. China clearly wants Nepal to sign on. But the Dahal government has been non-committal, as it apparently fears that signing up for the OBOR project will antagonize New Delhi.
Otherwise there is no good reason not to. True, the Chinese might have their own
calculations vis-à-vis OBOR, and the project might, as Indians fear, have some strategic component. One of its goals might indeed be to cap the Indian influence in South Asia.
But even if that is the case, the best way for India to check China’s expanding role in the region is through generous overtures of its own towards its smaller South Asian neighbors.
As veteran Indian diplomat Mani Shankar Aiyar told Republica recently, there is no need for India to be needlessly suspicious of the OBOR, which has “many positive characteristics”, and India should try to take advantage of this Chinese initiative
instead of “impotently opposing it”. The project aims to promote trade and connectivity inside Asia and between Asia and Europe. This is clearly in Chinese interest because China has to continue to find new markets for its products in order to sustain its almost miraculous economic growth. So what is the harm if small countries in the region like Nepal and Sri Lanka want to benefit from this state of greater connectivity and trade? Moreover, in Nepal’s case, in the wake of the 2015-16 economic blockade, there is a strong case for lessening the country’s over-reliance on India and increasing its trade with China. This does not mean we do harm to our relations with India, which will, given the extensive links between the two countries, continue to be by far the most important foreign partner of Nepal in the foreseeable future. But Nepal shouldn’t also tilt so much towards India that the country comes to be seen as no more than an extended arm of the South Asian behemoth.
Nepalis want better relations with China because there is no other option given Nepal’s challenging geopolitical position. But the political class in Nepal, instead of trying to
convince the skeptical Indians that their interests in Nepal would in no way be hampered by growing Nepal-China ties, seems ready to blindly follow New Delhi’s leads, thereby fanning the often baseless Indian fears. The leaders of Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Center), the main ruling coalition partners, should show more spine and do what is in the country’s best interest. It is shameful that our government continues to avoid high-level bilateral contacts with China just because it fears that China will ask Nepal to sign up for OBOR. At least engage the Chinese and seek clarity on what Nepal stands to gain (or lose) through OBOR. If leaders of the ruling coalition don’t have the guts to do even this perhaps they themselves don’t believe Nepal is a completely sovereign country.