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The Foreign Policy Of Nepal Politics Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 4337 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Upon the formulation of the Maoist-led government, both India and China were closely watching the new Prime Minister’s decisions. While India was vigilante as to whether the policies of the government predominantly and essentially compromised of pro-communism visionaries would reflect such ideologies. It was watchful of the possible strengthening of China’s ties with Nepal due to alignment of the governments’ ideologies. Similarly, China has been very cordial towards Nepal ever since, with higher diplomatic correspondence, especially visits to Kathmandu, causing worries in India. The “face of Indi-China relations are changing, thus the Nepalese foreign policies will need to adjust with the shifting tides”. [1] Convincing its neighbours of a balanced and neutral position amongst the imperceptible tension shall be a herculean task for the diplomatic and political scientists of Nepal.

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The imperceptible tension is founded on the competition between these rising economies to be the biggest economic powerhouse in Asia, and subsequently the world. Both the economies (China and India) are growing exponentially. With regard to China, expert predictions are that its volume of trade, which is already bigger than that of US since 2012 (although the latter remains the biggest economy) will get bigger with its market expanding in Europe in such a way that even the European competitors with have high time matching up. [2] There have been speculations that “in 2040, the Chinese economy will reach $123 trillion, or nearly three times the economic output of the entire globe in 2000”. [3] 

India must be well aware about the growing dominance of China in regional market. It has alleged China of an ‘encirclement’ strategy since the Chinese focus on the sector of transportation can be observed in the Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Sri Lanka and Pakistan and all of these countries have one significant commonality- they surround India. [4] However, these emerging superpowers are seeking to enhance their economic cooperation in the present light. The current Chinese investments in India are to the tune of around $580 million, a sizeable amount, which India and China are seeking to increase through agreed to a five-year plan on economic cooperation as well as setting up a joint working group (JWG) to go into all trade related issues. [5] The competitiveness has soured the diplomatic relations between China and India, if not stalled them since the volume of trade between these giant economies is in fact growing rapidly, with the volume of trade expected to increase by as much as $30 billion dollars by 2015. [6] 

On the other hand, territorial skirmishes are still going on between these two hefty neighbours of Nepal. One critique pens that although it is highly improbable that these two archrivals of the 19th century would head towards a confrontation, the territorial skirmishes still loom large in the 21st century. The vestiges of the Sino-Indian war which dates back to the 1962 remains, since the border dispute has not been solved despite genuine attempts by both the parties for it. Both the parties have tightened the security in the borders by deploying more military forces, making it highly militarized, in fact, one of the highest in the world. Periodic clashes are not uncommon and set off the countries towards series of arguments. [7] 

Nepal should be a careful vigilante in the coming years of the concurrent power tussle and cooperation between the neighbours. That Nepal is the land bridge between India and China is a fallacy, these the nations share more border connected with each other. However, the clamours of any skirmishes taking place has had resonated in Nepal as well, in which both the neighbours wait for Nepal’s response. The ‘equidistant policy’ of Nepal, which is also a constitutional directive principle of Nepal, finds itself being frayed when such happens.

C.K. Lal makes following observation for prospects and limits for a productive foreign policy, amidst Sino-Indian relation [8] :

Kathmandu has the potential to become the “idea-bridge” between the two giant neighbours;

Nepal has the potential of emerging not as an information technology hub, but as a centre of excellence in learning Chinese and Indian economy, culture and society.

Tourism development is a desirable goal, but rich Chinese are not going to come to Nepal to trek in the Himalayas for quite some time-they would rather go to Paris to learn the ways of living like Parisians or travel to London to have suits tailored at bespoke outfitters of Savile Row…it would be too much to expect that Nepal’s economy stands to benefit from development of trucking routes between Bihar and Tibet.

Nepalis have to learn to be interpreters of a new world order of which both their neighbors are going to be important players. Hindi needs to be celebrated for that reason, not because some Madheshis think that it is their mother tongue. More Nepalis have to begin learning Chinese. And Nepal needs to aim for a respectable place on the next EPI list.

Similarly, Shrestha suggests that if Nepal could have 10% of the transportation crossing through its territory, it would be a billion dollar turnover for Nepal, whose worth cannot be overstated. [9] 

8.2 India – China Interference or Nepal’s Imprudent Foreign Policy?

There is nothing extraordinary for China and India to have political interest over Nepal. They reasons to have such an interest in Nepal because it is their neighbour with a contiguous territory sensitive to political unity and security. [10] 

One apt instance would be the visit paid by Prime Minister of Nepal Baburam Bhattarai to India in the recent past. Nepal did not present a concrete proposal through official channels in advance that would have given the Indians time to process it through their multiple agencies. The Nepal embassy in India-with its limited resources, lack of outreach among influential politicians and commentators, and dismal bureaucratic leadership-was unable to do the groundwork for a big breakthrough in quick time. While the visit was a success in restoring trust between the two governments, and kick-starting many bilateral mechanisms that had been inert, it was underwhelming only because of what the Nepali side had promised. [11] 

Managing the India-China dynamic will remain Nepal’s foremost diplomatic challenge in years to come. And if we go by this year’s track record, the Nepali establishment is still not equipped enough with the skills to do so tactfully. There was a vote for a position in an important UN body recently, with both India and China competing. At the last minute, Nepal decided to vote for China-Beijing, which had already served two terms on the body, lost. The rest of the South Asian region, including arch-rival Pakistan, had voted for India. [12] A reporter writes on the issue:

For years, visiting Indian ministers and other dignitaries have been trying to project an image of deep amity with Nepal, reiterating that the two countries share age-old cultural, social and other ties. However, apparently, these vaunted ties do not extend to working together at the UN. Even as India celebrates the victory of its candidate A Gopinathan over his Chinese rival Zhang Yan at Monday’s vote for a five-year term at the UN’s Joint Inspection Unit, Indian mandarins in Kathmandu have been left unhappy by the fact that Nepal chose to vote against India. [13] 

The above is not going to the last time that Nepal is placed in a sticky situation, where it is to express its support to one of the two neighbours it does not otherwise intend to upset. The best way to go about it is a political honesty and transparency, which can only be possible if it has a certain foreign policy practice that it swears to, which should be the basis of its actions in relations to its neighbours and not speculations and predictions.

8.3 Adjusting to the Influence of Globalization and Global Economies

Rapid momentums are taking place in the world and states are competing for a comfortable positions in world polity, economic security with a few on a head on with each other. Amidst such momentums, Nepal has a huge responsibility of catching up, for becoming a developed country from a troubled and struggling developing country.

If we take a bird’s view of the globe, we can see phenomenal progresses going around. Since its downfall, Russia has gotten over its Lenin syndrome, Economic competitiveness has replace the imperial policies. Nongovernmental and transnational organizations are thriving. The recession has taken a toll majorly on United States and Europe. New economies are seeking to become the topdogs position beside the elite Superpowers, who still have successfully maintained their grasp on their own position. Asia is resurfacing as the basket of civilization with a steady Japan and agile India and China. It has been forecasted that “in the next 15/20 years, Japan, Russia and Brazil, closely followed by Indonesia will emerge as major players in the international arena” [14] .

Scholars have opined following to be the face of world order by 2050: [15] 

China will continue in its mission to surpass the States as the ultimate economy and shall do so in a matter of 15-20 years, followed by India, who will not lag behind, standing besides the States and China by the time the calendar reads 2050.

The elite powerhouses of present day will maintain their status quo, but will not be able to prevent the present day average economies, with a considerable economic growth rate, from catching up.

Europe will continue to go with the transnational policy and will extend its relations with other growing economies.

Either the world will witness a chronic food deficit, crumbling the deprived pockets of globe and their malnourished population, or the nations will work expeditiously towards fulfilling their commitment, thus eliminating chronic hunger.

International organizations, transnational organizations and Nongovernmental organizations gain momentum. Those such as WTO will gain more prominence as the least and developed nations, along with average will form alliances and voice demands for enhanced participation and privileges.

8.4 Reinforcing the Importance of Regional Organizations

The feats that regional organization can achieve are evident in the economic order of the European Union, the control displayed by NATO in the Kosovo in the name of humanitarian assistance, the cartel of OPEC over supply of petrol to the nooks and crannies of globe, the effective solidarity demonstrated by AU and ASEAN for the collective interest of their regions among others.

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established in 1985, on 8th December. Bangladesh and Nepal explicitly lobbied for it at various meetings. Since its inception, SAARC has “SAARC has developed and consolidated its institutional framework and the scope and volume of its activities has expanded, with the setting up of 11 Technical Committees.” [16] 

Democratization process in the region is picking up:

The recently adopted SAARC Democracy Charter gives expression to collective commitment of the member states to promote and preserve values and ideals of democracy and democratic institutions. The Charter also reinforces the supremacy of the Member States’ respective constitutions and envisions strengthening democratic institutions by reinforcing democratic practices. Guarantee of the independence of judiciary and primacy of rule of law along with the commitment to adhere to UN Charter and other international instruments are some of the salient features of the Charter. [17] 

However, SAARC has even been labelled the most derided regional association in the world. It has been ridiculed for its incompetence in promoting regional trade, security, unity and a whole host of other issues. It has been called to be merely an avenue for leaders to partake in photo opportunities. [18]  

However, there is no other alternative to SAARC for South Asians. It cannot choose not to have any sort of regional cooperation or only promote bilateral relations. [19]  

The importance of SAARC for Nepal is immense. The impediments of globalization have made regionalism more preferable for small states. Inoguchi and Bacon enumerate on the argument drawing reference to the East Asian small states who despite their developmentalist-based successes have been poorly equipped to address and manage their high levels of interdependence sensitivity and in such lights have realized that their best response to this sensitivity to globalization is to develop an explicitly regionalist approach, but that in order to do this they have had to adapt to different and more transparent proto-democratic norms of political and economic self- and collective governance. [20] 

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Trivedi asserts that the South Asian countries, on a positive note, do have a number of inherent advantages with regard to regional co-operation. They command a huge potential market with a combined population of more than 1.5 billion people. What is needed is to enlarge, integrate and unify this market by removing barriers to trade and taking other measures that will enhance regional co-operation. [21] 

Nepal should promote reinvigoration of SAARC. SAFTA is a pact signed 2004 by the SAARC member states, through which the member states intend and elevate common contracts among themselves, involving trade operated by states, supply and import assurance in respect of specific products. Agreements are to be concluded for tariff concessions and non-tariff concessions (sensitive list). This could provide special preference to least developed SAARC member like Nepal. [22] 

8.5 Other Critical Areas not to be Left Out

Combating poverty is in the epicentre of Nepal’s foreign policy, especially in terms of foreign aid and assistance. Managing the refugee problem and fulfilling its international treaty obligation towards human rights, upliftment of women and children will be vital for Nepal to improve its impression in the international forums.

Climate Change will be one of the most pressing issues in the 21st century. For countries like Nepal, the test of climate policy and action is how the communities will see change in their adaptation to the adverse effects climate change which they are already experiencing. Of crucial importance to Nepal is also the issue of protection of the Himalayan ecosystem against the adverse effect climate change, including through the melting of glaciers. Comprehensive framework for adaptation will also need to address the needs for disaster risk reduction. The indispensability and vulnerability of mountain ecosystem in addressing sustainability found a reference in the Rio+20 declaration, owing to Nepal’s diplomacy as chair of the LDCs. This needs to be further pursued. The continuation of Adaptation Fund created from 2% from CDM under the Kyoto Protocol is also equally important for us. [23] 

Another area the commendable participation in the UN Peacekeeping operations that has improved Nepal’s image in the international forum. [24] Such endeavours should be continued for Nepal to gain positive attention of its regional partners as well as other international vigilantes.



Annette Baker Fox writes, ” The distinctive power of great states flows from their military strength…for the Small state, diplomacy is the tool of statecraft”. [25]   Historically foreign policy has been a vital tool of Nepali statecraft and test of statesmanship. The nature of politics which is witnessing fundamental changes in the entire spectrum of issues/interests, institutions and actors in a crucial time (21st Century) and location (in Asia between India and China) makes Nepal’s foreign policy formulation and conduct of diplomacy particularly challenging now. [26] The diplomats and policy framers of Nepal should be aware about the fact that its position, whether economic, political or geographic, confers upon it certain rights and privileges, and it is the international obligation of developed states to uphold them. It has, for instance, certain rights to transit and passage being a landlocked country, provided it hones in its diplomats the quality to not flinch while asserting demands of exercise of such rights and privileges in concerned platforms.

Dealing with simultaneously cooperating and competing regional and global super-powers embroiled in their own internal upheavals in a rapidly changing global political and economic order and strategic equation demands access to right information and ability to interpret it with knowledge, understanding and experience. Historical intricacies and new complexities seen through the eyes of simple convictions, outdated dogmas or vested interests distort comprehension; policies based on them can lead to unintended serious consequences.  [27]  Nepal can be no exception to this recommendation for the reason of it having just resurfaced through a horrendous armed conflict. Sympathy-based foreign aid and assistance cannot be sustained for long, since resources are diverted elsewhere when the crisis is worse. Sustainable development also requires Nepal to strength its resources. Development of human resource in fields of trade and energy will be crucial for Nepal in the days to come.

9.1 Relations of Trust and Confidence with India and China

Historically Nepal is the meeting point of two great civilizations and today it is one of the epicentres of competing interests in an impending global paradigm shift. Located between two global economic and strategic powerhouses, Nepal can greatly benefit from developments taking place in India and China today. However, it is essential to realize that proximity adds vitality but also sensitivity and complexity in interstate relations demanding high priority and careful handling. [28] As late Prof. Yadu Nath Khanal, the most respected Nepali diplomat scholar wrote long ago “our foreign policy will breakdown at the point where either India or China looses faith in us and concludes that her vital national interests and sensitivities do not receive proper recognition in our conduct of relations”. Changing global and regional political, economic and security needs and the seriousness of the challenges faced by the South Asian states, particularly extreme poverty and threats from terror networks have made things more complicated. [29] 

Nepal’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity” while the other feels so exposed that it feels compelled to apply its own “Monroe doctrine”. In this sensitive relationship, vain debates, name-calling and finger pointing only raise risks of more external involvement in internal power contests. So, domestic politics is the biggest problem of Nepal’s foreign policy today; restoration of trust and confidence with all our foreign friends and partners, but most importantly India and China is the top priority of Nepal’s foreign policy making and conduct of diplomacy. [30] 

9.2 National Interest, but also Guiding Principles

Nepal will have to come up with a guideline on its equidistance principle very soon if it does not want to get too deep into the Tibet-China struggle. It has not allowed Tibetans to hold protests against China on its soil on number of occasions, including the birthday of the exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, who is reviled by Beijing as a “separatist”. While Nepal cannot swear support to the ‘One China Policy’, it cannot discharge of China’s insinuations of assistance in exchange for such support. National Interests and guiding principles should both be concerns of Nepal. [31] 

9.4 Active role in SAARC


Many institutions of SAARC framework lies in Kathmandu, including the SAARC Secretariat. Nepal has been a favourite venue for hosting several SAARC summits. If Nepal proactively persuades reenergizing SAARC, it can only benefit from being the hub for south Asian diplomacy, to some extent, what Luxembourg is for the European Union.

9.5 Economic (Development) Diplomacy

Nepal will firstly have to work a way to limiting and subsequently finishing off its international debt and appeal for waivers and grants. It will have to negotiate with not only its neighbours but other prospective countries for making free trade agreements, duty-free and excise agreements and such. It should demonstrate strong leadership as the chair of the LDCs in platforms like WTO and UN.

9.6 Forward looking and Dynamic Diplomacy

Edward Hallett Carr suggests, before the First World War, in most democracies war was regarded mainly the business of soldiers and as a corollary, international relations and foreign policy the business of professional diplomats, outside the scope of domestic party politics or a matter of public scrutiny. The war of 1914 once and for all changed the view that war only affects and can be conducted by professional soldiers. It also ended the corresponding notion that foreign policy could safely be left in the hands of professional diplomats. [32] 

To encapsulate in a few points, the areas to be worked out in the future for a sound foreign policy with regard to India and China would be:

Development of foreign policy guidelines, such as on the equidistance principle

Honing negotiation skills

Democratization of foreign policy

A renewed vigor and proactive participation in SAARC

Vigilance of the interactions between India and China.


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