KATHMANDU, Dec 20: As China makes a greater foray in Nepal through its overarching Belt and Road Initiative, the United States of America has sought a 'central role' from this Himalayan nation in its “Indo-pacific strategy”— widely seen as a counter to the ambitious Chinese connectivity project.
Although details of what role the US expects Nepal to play in this strategy were not immediately available, senior State Department officials have stated indirectly that the US wants Nepal to play an important role. Foreign policy critics say the strategy aims to “reshape America's regional approach and coalesce efforts to manage a rising China”.
The US solicited Nepal's key role in the strategy during a bilateral meeting held between Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali and US Secretary of State Michael Richard Pompeo at the State Department in Washington DC, Tuesday.
“… the two leaders discussed Nepal's central role in a free, open, and prosperous Indo-Pacific, [and] global issues, including North Korea,” Deputy Spokesperson at the State Department Robert J. Palladino tweeted later on Tuesday.
Making democracies in the region including India, Japan, South Korea and even Australia an integral part of it, the "Indo-Pacific Strategy" seeks to contain China's rise and safeguard U.S. leadership in the region under the broader theme of creating a “free, open and prosperous Asia Pacific”.
As a part of the Indo-Pacific strategy, the Trump administration had earlier announced $113 million in investment to promote digital, energy and infrastructure connectivity in the Indo-Pacific in the midst of China scaling up its infrastructure loans to various countries in Asia Pacific including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Maldives in recent years.
The meeting between Nepal and the US after a hiatus of 17 years comes at a time when Nepal seeks to further deepen its bilateral relations with major world powers including the US after emerging from a decade-long Maoist armed insurgency and a protracted political transition.
On the other hand, the US is currently seeking to strengthen its alliance and partnership with various countries in the Indo- Pacific, mainly those within the orbit of China, as disputes linger between the two countries on issues of trade and the South China Sea .
According to a press statement issued by the State Department after the conclusion of the bilateral meeting, the meeting also focused on various global issues including North Korea, which is considered a close ally of China. The US has been taking various economic and diplomatic measures to force this communist country to give up its nuclear arms project that poses a threat to US allies in the region.
Foreign Minister Gyawali highlighted the priorities of the Nepal government in line with its goal of graduating from the LDC status at an early date and becoming a middle income country by 2030, according to a press statement issued by the Embassy of Nepal in Washington .
Minister Gyawali and Secretary of State Pompeo also underlined the importance of early implementation of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact, according to a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The US has given Nepal $500 million in grant to develop various road and transmission line projects as a part of the MCC.
The MoFA statement said views were also exchanged on enhancing political relations through exchange of visits and ways and means for promoting economic cooperation between the two countries, with particular focus on the areas of trade, investment and development assistance.
State Department Deputy Spokesperson Palladino said Secretary Pompeo highlighted the enduring strength of the US-Nepal partnership and the close people-to-people ties that form the foundation of the relationship. “The Secretary noted that … historic meeting demonstrates the US commitment to its strong partnership with Nepal. He emphasized the great potential for the further development of US-Nepal ties,” he said in a statement.
Prior to the bilateral meeting, Nepal and the US held political consultations, which were co-chaired by Foreign [Ministry] Secretary Shanker Das Bairagi and Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice G. Wells. “The agenda for discussion in the consultation meeting included the policies and development priorities of Nepal, implementation of bilateral agreements, updates on MCC Compact, the peace process of Nepal, development cooperation, trade and investment issues as well as matters pertaining to regional and global affairs,” the MoFA statement said.