Kathmandu, May 14
Visiting Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asia at the US Department of State David J Ranz today said Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact programme was one of the most important initiatives being implemented in Nepal under the US Indo-Pacific Strategy.
He said the MCC Compact was valuable not only because it was going to provide critically needed infrastructure to boost Nepal’s energy sector, but also because it would boost regional connectivity. “Regional connectivity is another critical aspect of our goals in the Indo-Pacific Strategy,” Ranz said at an interaction with a select group of journalists.
Ranz said a whole-of-government effort was under way to expand US engagement with the Indo-Pacific region, including Nepal, to ensure it is free, open, and operates on a rules-based system. He said the efforts were focused on three areas — economics, security, and governance — and the US had launched several new programmes and initiatives under these themes to help achieve the vision for the Indo-Pacific.
Referring to the US yearly development assistance of $200 million to Nepal, he said the US was Nepal’s largest bilateral donor. “I stress the word ‘donor’ because our assistance arrives in the form of grants, supported by the generosity of the American taxpayer, and not in the form of loans designed to return a profit to others and increase Nepal’s indebtedness,” he said.
Ranz also said there should be no doubt about US commitment to Nepal and the type of investments it brought. “When the United States invests, we do so in a manner that is sustainable, transparent, and that brings real benefits to the Nepali people,” he said.
According to Ranz, the Indo-Pacific Strategy was about enabling private sector investment in the region — spanning Indian and Pacific oceans — as only the private sector could fund the region’s Infrastructure requirements that ran into trillions of dollars.
He said the US private sector, which had already invested around a trillion dollar in the region, intended to increase the amount. Ranz, however, said private sector companies would invest in Nepal only if they saw Nepal as a good place to do business. Citing World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index where Nepal is not very well ranked, he said the Nepali government could come into play to address such concerns.
Ranz also made it clear that the Indo-Pacific Strategy was not an alliance or agreement, and nobody was signing on to it. He said it was about freedom, freedom of navigation, freedom of press, protection of sovereignty of countries of the region, enabling them to make the best decisions for the people of those countries both politically and economically free of any kind of coercion. Ranz said anybody, including China, could take the same approach to investment.
“Where I think there needs to be concern is when any company or country is engaged in a non-transparent procurement,” he said, adding it would result in risk such as the projects not bringing benefits for the host country, and providing opportunity for corruption.
Replying to journalists’ query about how the US perceives the Chinese-led Belt and Road Initiative of which Nepal is member, Ranz said the term BRI in itself did not have any meaning.
A version of this article appears in print on May 15, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.