By Rudroneel Ghosh in Talking Turkey
Chinese state Councillor and foreign minister Wang Yi’s visit to Nepal once again highlights growing Beijing-Kathmandu relations. Wang’s three-day trip reviewed the entire gamut of Nepal-China ties as he called on Nepali PM KP Oli, President Bidya Devi Bhandari and foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali.
Wang’s visit is also seen as preparation for the expected visit to Nepal by Chinese President Xi Jinping. After all, the Himalayan nation is banking on big investments from China to power local development. In this respect, the Nepali side requested Wang to expedite projects under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
It will be recalled that Nepal had signed up to BRI in 2017 and nine projects have been identified under the flagship programme. But Nepal’s relationship with China has caused concern in India. In fact, New Delhi-Kathmandu relations themselves have been on a shaky wicket in recent years, thanks to New Delhi’s objections to certain provisions of the new Nepali Constitution adopted in 2015 and the trade blockade that followed. The blockade drew accusations of Indian interference in Nepal’s internal matters and somewhat compelled the Nepali leadership to contemplate a closer relationship with China.
But India should not see relations between New Delhi, Kathmandu and Beijing as a zero-sum game. If New Delhi tries to impede the Kathmandu-Beijing relationship it will once again invite charges of interference from the Nepali side. Instead, New Delhi should be confident about its age-old ties with Kathmandu.
The open border, the presence of Nepali citizens in the Indian armed forces, and the historic, cultural and religious ties between Indian and Nepali people cannot be replaced by China. Plus, in terms of trade, connectivity and mutual development, the India-Nepal border is far more conducive than the China-Nepal border. Thus, India-Nepal ties are natural and don’t face any threats in the foreseeable future.
If at all there is an issue, it is the lackluster pace of implementation of India-sponsored projects in Nepal. Many of these have dragged on for decades. This needs to be rectified by New Delhi. Other than that, India should let Nepal chart its own course with China.
For, forcing Kathmandu to choose between New Delhi and Beijing will backfire on Indian interests. A better approach would be to see Nepal as fertile ground for trilateral cooperation between New Delhi, Kathmandu and Beijing. This would not only be great for regional development but also track historical trends. After all, Nepal is the melting pot of Hinduism and Buddhism, of Tibetan culture and Indo-Gangetic culture. Therefore, it is a natural meeting place for India and China.
Just to illustrate this point, as Nepali leaders were seeking more assistance from Wang, India and Nepal inaugurated the 69-km Motihari-Amlekhganj energy pipeline that will ease supply of petroleum products to the people of Nepal. Hence, it is natural for Nepal to leverage its geographic position to get the best deals from both India and China. New Delhi and Beijing should play along and even explore the possibility of a big joint project in Nepal.