Growing American Interest and the Option for Nepal
China’s regular high level visit to Nepal after the overthrowing of the King, their high level delegations to Nepal’s political parties’ conventions and their proposal for new foreign policy in the changed circumstances all indicate that China is very much willing to assert its interests in Nepal and it is determined to pursue the policy of containing Free Tibet protests in Nepal, which China views as a threat supported by India as Nepal shares a vast open border with the southern neighbour. On the other hand, the US, the western power, and partly India see, Tibet case as their future strategic tool to contain and bargain with China. However, this picture is not particularly favorable for Nepal.
By Jeevan Baniya
Recently, people from Mustang district had got the opportunity to welcome and share their grievances and problems with the American Ambassador to Nepal, Nancy J Powell, who had made a ‘surprise visit’ to the area. However, no mainstream media covered her visit. As some reports suggested Powell, who landed there by a chartered helicopter, talked to locals on ‘development problems’ and their living conditions. It has been reported that the local political leaders expressed their dissatisfaction over her visit, as saying a foreign diplomat is not supposed to make a trip in that manner. However, she has been reported to have had approval letter for visiting upper Mustang from Annapurna Conservation Area Program (ACAP), which is mandatory for visiting the area.
The local leaders, who had been critical however, seem to have been unaware about how politics and diplomacy of Nepal functions when it comes to the questions of sovereignty. And it will not be unusual if the Maoist-led government remains tightlipped on the matter. Neither will we hear the leaders of the main opposition Nepali Congress seeking government clarification in the parliament, as they did in the case of Defence Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa’s secret trip to Khasa Bazaar.
Let me get back to the US ambassador’s visit to Mustang. Although the ambassador has said that it was a private trip, it could well have strategic connotations. Lomathang, in Mustang district, borders China. Her visit to the area along with US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Richard Boucher, last month also reasserts the American strategic interest in Nepal, not to mention its interest in the domestic affairs of Nepal. It has been also reported the German ambassador to Nepal also visited Mustang but no information is available about his engagements there. Similarly, there is also rumour that the ambassador of France to Nepal is also supposed to have reached to Mustang around this time. These developments should be taken as meaningful particularly in context of China pressuring Nepal to stop all kinds of anti-China protests in Nepal. Interestingly enough, there are about 16 Indian army officials in the leadership of a Cornell General for some kind of training, who reached there recently, according to the Chief of ACAP Bharat K.C.
The end of the cold war stimulated efforts to create new regional power centers and consequently some regional power centers emerged in the world mainly the US, EU, China, India and Iran and Brazil. Foreign policy analysts view China as an emerging supper power in Asia as well as in the world and it has been realised that China’s growing influence is making a fundamental shift in international political dynamics although the degree of its manifestations have been speculated in different ways. Some even predict that China’s economy will be bigger than America’s within two decades. Political scientists have pointed to the historic shift of power from West to East as some Asian countries have been achieving remarkable economic growth, which in future might lead to strengthening of their military power as well. Realists stress that the simultaneous rise of China and India is a matter of serious concern for the US.
The US that has strengthened strategic relationship with India in recent years through cooperation on nuclear development seems interested to balance China’s rapidly rising power in Asia. The intention of the US to contain China also becomes clear when we see its engagement with Japan, India and Australia in recent years. The joint military exercise of US, Japan and India in 2007 has further fueled the Chinese assumption for US strategic interest to circle China. In this context, it can be said that China resents the role of the US in the Asia-pacific region while the latter is worried about its loosing influence in this region.
By this time China and India are at the state of neither friends nor enemies, and they are cooperating and competing at the same time despite one assuming another as a potential threat in the long run. The reason is that China is not fully assured about India on Tibet as India supported exiled Tibetans separatist activities giving asylum to fugitive rebels and it propped up the Tibetan Government in Exile. As most analysts argue that India’s security concept and strategic thinking now consist a complex mix of pragmatism and idealism, the US stills is not sure about India’s full cooperation in the future thus seeking parallel alternatives; and Tibet is one of them.
Nepal as we know lives largely within Indian orbit; however the rising power of China is trying to pull Nepal closer to its orbit. China’s regular high level visit to Nepal after the overthrowing of the King, their high level delegations to Nepal’s political parties’ conventions and their proposal for new foreign policy in the changed circumstances all indicate that China is very much willing to assert its interests in Nepal and it is determined to pursue the policy of containing Free Tibet protests in Nepal, which China views as a threat supported by India as Nepal shares a vast open border with the southern neighbour. On the other hand, the US, the western power, and partly India see, Tibet case as their future strategic tool to contain and bargain with China. However, this picture is not particularly favorable for Nepal and it may even pose a challenge to peace, stability and our development course.
In the abovementioned strategic games involving these quarters, one thing is clear that each country has its own national security, power and development interest in the case in Nepal. Then, it makes us ask ourselves some pertinent questions: What and how can Nepal pursue its own national goals in this geopolitical situation? How do we manage these conflicting foreign interests in Nepal? And are we prepared for any possible threats to our sovereignty that could emerge due to the conflicting interests?
Globalisation has proved that in any country without security there can be no development and without development security is incomplete. Most powerful countries have realised that a strong economy is the foundation of military strength and guarantee to social stability. Moving beyond traditional belief, scholars hold that it is economic rather than military strength that gives states better say in international affairs.
Considering its sources of power such as size of demography and territory, economic products and military capacity, realistic and pragmatic approach for Nepal to strengthen the sovereignty and security will be strengthening our economy, international relations and human resources with the foreign policy that is effective in engaging with the key power centers.
Furthermore, integrating the then Maoist-army into national army and equipping the military alone will never be sufficient to guarantee either our sovereignty or security. Failure to initiate timely approaches will further weaken our sovereignty, thereby turning the nation as a ground of the power centres.
(Baniya is a research fellow at Democracy and Social Movement Institute (DaSMI) Sungkonghoe University, Seoul, South Korea. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org )
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Monday, April 6, 2009
Posted by Happiness Seeker at 3:10 PM