Asian integration: Where does Nepal stand?

More visibly, the regional integration process in Asia is steadily coming up on the stage in recent years. Given the enormity of size and availability of resources, human and other essentials, in the region, the scope and scale of integration will be much greater and larger as compared to the other parts of the world. Its progression seems unstoppable on its journey onward.

Because of greater development needs and rising awareness about solving various political and security problems facing Asia, the urge for integration has drawn much attention of the Asian leaders. Coincidentally, along with the summit meeting of ASEAN leaders, the East Asia summit was also held in Kuala Lumpur last December. This apex meeting that comprised 10 ASEAN members plus Japan, South Korea, China, India, Australia and New Zealand agreed to form a regional group to work together to confront economic, security and political problems.

Commenting on the formation of this largest group, a western commentator wrote that this East Asia meeting could be a parallel to the meeting of the European political leaders held in Messina in 1955, which paved the way for creating the present European Union. This group consists of almost half of the total world population with a huge GDP of US$ 8.3 trillion with ever growing technical and managerial skills to enhance productivity in Asia. This development exemplifies how Asia could become manageable.

Integrating Asia provides other pictures too. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, established a few years ago with four central Asian states plus China and Russia, has been functioning for fruitful collaboration in sectors like energy and transport to facilitate trade and development with India and Pakistan all set to join the organisation as observers. No less noticeable is the proposed launching of a Joint Business Forum of India, China and Russia in New Delhi in the coming spring with an intent to forge ahead for cooperation in trade, energy, hi-tech, etc. as also to combat terrorism with the exchange of information on intelligence, secret service etc. Evidently, Asia has occupied an immensely greater importance in terms of economic value and strategic cooperation.

Nepal has been left out of these processes of integration evolving with its two bigger neighbours closely involved, whose economic growth rates have remained spectacular among developing countries with their techno-educational improvement performing better. True, several other fringe countries of Asia have also not yet been included in the process, perhaps a number of political-economic impediments may be given as reasons for exclusion.

Obsession with domestic political imbroglio with security phobia looming large and dismal performance on the economic front have greatly affected Nepal’s external activities, stalling its greater involvement in the region. Its tiny economy is hardly reckoned with in the economic map of the region. However, feelings of smallness and weakness should not be entrenched into behavior of the nation in the conduct of its external activities. Subdued complexes do not augur well, nor let the positive development around Nepal go like the “caviar to the general” with better potential unappreciated and untapped. Skills and preparedness with good strategies for utilising the emerging opportunities for the advancement of the nation deserve due attention.

Nepal’s contribution in the formative years of SAARC is laudable. However, this regional group has proved itself as a sluggish and reluctant performer. Launching of the regional trade under the recently approved SAFTA gives some hopeful signs. But observers note SAARC has still a long way to go to cover the greater depth in other core areas of the regional economy.

Growth Quadrangle of which Nepal is a founding member appears to be a non-performer. How far Nepal’s participation in BIMSTEC, a seven-nation grouping of South and Southeast Asian regions, will be helpful to the disadvantaged and underdeveloped members suffering from a greater lack of skilled manpower and natural resources remains to be seen.

Until now, Nepal’s involvement in the integration process is still too limited and highly insufficient in view of its greater need for socio-economic advancement. Only trade centred integration process and other peripheral activities will not be so beneficial, as an overwhelmingly larger section of Nepali society is neither trade-oriented, nor capable of advancing on its own.

Nepal’s participation in any regional organisations, smaller or larger, will be perceptively rewarding only if it enhances speedy infrastructure development, promotes necessary skilled manpower and facilitates bigger opportunities for migrant workers in view of its current economic situation. All these merit due attention to lift Nepal Nepal out of the deepening morass of development-starved and security-scared situation.

Shrestha is ex-foreign ministry official.