Tibetan refugees at the Jawalakhel Tibetan Refugee camp in this picture taken in 2015. Photo: Republica Files
Experts advise caution
KATHMANDU, Jan 14: Foreign policy experts have cautioned the country’s policymakers to remain vigilant regarding the recent developments in the region after the USA came up with the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) of 2018 that, among other things, provides for a dedicated fund for NGOs working for the cause of Tibetan communities living here and seeks to expand cooperation with Nepal as a part of promoting its overall security interests in the Indo-Pacific region.
The ARIA, approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the US in early December and signed by President Donald Trump on December 31, 2018, also recognizes India, as a major defense partner of the US in the Indo-Pacific region.
This, experts say, will have major bearings on Nepal’s foreign policy conduct as its immediate neighbors—India and China—see each other as their strategic rival.
The ARIA, which seeks “to develop a long-term strategic vision and a comprehensive, multi-faceted, and principled United States policy for the Indo-Pacific region and for other purposes,” authorizes to be appropriated $210 million for each fiscal year from 2019 to 2023 “to promote democracy, strengthen civil society, human rights, rule of law, transparency, and accountability in the Indo- Pacific region”.
Besides using the fund “to promote democracy, rule of law and human rights in the People’s Republic of China”, this “shall be made available for non-governmental organizations to support activities preserving cultural tradition and promoting sustainable development, education, and environmental conservation in Tibetan communities in the Tibet Autonomous Region and in other Tibetan Communities in China, India and Nepal.”
The Tibetan government in exile at Dharmashala, India, was quick to hail the enactment of the Act, saying the passage of the legislation “a much-welcomed move.”
Experts including security officials in Nepal fear that majority of this fund could be channeled through Nepal due to tight regulations governing NGOs in both India and China. Although the number of Tibetan refugees has decreased in recent years, security officials believe that there are still a sizeable number of them in Nepal.
Former ambassador and foreign policy expert Prof Jayaraj Acharya said the mention of Nepal in the ARIA suggests that Nepal has fallen in the priority list under the US Indo-Pacific strategy, which many experts argue aims to contain the rise of China.
“Our policymakers need to be aware of this fact and act cautiously in the days ahead,” he warned.
The Act also outlines a number of strategies to promote US security interests in the Indo-Pacific region, with a provision to appropriate $ 1.5 billion for each fiscal year from 2019 to 2023 for the Department of States, USAID, and, as appropriate to the Department of Defense.
One of the strategies of the US to promote its security interests in the Indo-Pacific region will be through “expanding cooperation with democratic partners in South Asia, including Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka”.
It may be recalled that Admiral Philip S Davidson, commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, visited Nepal last week. During his meeting with Defense Minister Ishwar Pokharel, Davidson had discussed maintaining peace in the Indo-Pacific region, besides a number of other issues related to security, according to the Ministry of Defense.
During the meeting with Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali in Washington DC on December 19, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo solicited Nepal’s key role in the Indo-Pacific region. “… the two leaders discussed Nepal’s central role in a free, open, and prosperous Indo-Pacific, [and] global issues, including North Korea,” Deputy spokesman at the State Department Robert J Palladino had tweeted after the meeting.
As China makes a greater foray in the whole of Indo-Pacific region including Nepal through its overarching Belt and Road Initiative and its growing economic muscles, the ARIA of the USA seeks to reassure its allies that the American influence in the region has not dwindled.
“The latest development shows that our foreign minister during his visit to the US had failed to recognize the gravity of the issues raised during the meeting. Equally, he seems to have failed to evaluate their immediate reactions and long-term implications,” said former foreign minister Ramesh Nath Pandey, while urging political leaders to act cautiously, recognizing the gravity of the latest political and strategic developments in the region.