Nepal | May 27, 2020

US-India-Nepal alliance: Countering China

Umesh K. Bhattarai
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Nepal, surrounded by three nuclear powers of Asia- needs to adopt a careful policy as to whom to be aligned with. The policy of ‘non-alignment’ has no value now- so, where Nepal wants to incline for its betterment is a burning question.

Nepal-India-USIndo-Nepal relations are more utility based rather than cultural or religious. Emotional values have no importance in the present world of rational philosophy which needs redefinition in our context.

The new constitution promulgation was the acid text for Nepal that was disliked by some Madhesi and ethnic based groups.

In support, India showed dissatisfaction. The recent visit by PM Puspa Kamal Dahal to India indicates some shift on its policy which has raised eyebrows in Nepal. Whether he is wrong or right will be known in due course of time.

The overall dynamics of global power is shifting. The super power USA and the next global power China are contesting each other on many issues. The Russian Federation is another which has legacy of past having a significant strategic advantage in global politics.

China has emerged as a global economic power challenging most of the rising economy of the world. In South Asia, it is trying to   foothold assertive strategic position challenging Indian pivotal location as well.

China wants to have access to the entire South Asian markets and entry into Indian Ocean through Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. The main rival for it is India. Myanmar was its partner but the alliance has broken once the former opened its door for democracy.

Now, China is inclined towards Pakistan to reach the Arabian Sea- so it is focused to develop Gadar port and Karakoram Highway to connect its hinterland. Pakistan turned to China when it failed to get enough support to become a nuclear state from westerners.

USA withdrew all the support to Pakistan when the latter was found supporting terrorism through Al-Quida, Taliban and Al-Nusra.

It is obvious that Nepal is not a lucrative investment for China. Nepali market is limited and unless it gets access to India- it might have no interest to develop infrastructure in Nepal.

The US- India alliance to counter Chinese interest in South Asia and to get into the Indian Ocean will be definitely a grand strategy to stop China entering Nepal. Notwithstanding the ground reality- if Nepal provokes against the greater interest, it may face the same consequences that Pakistan is having now.

As we all know, China is an economic giant but it has not reached a strategic position where it can influence global politics as the Russian Federation.

Nepal and Pakistan’s geopolitics cannot be compared. Pakistan is connected with the sea and is the greatest rival of India and a nuclear state too. It is involved in power-politics in Afghanistan and embroiled in the Kashmir issue with India.

India is a rival to China and Pakistan. Nepal’s case is different and it has no enmities with any of its neighbors. But, to dilute Chinese interest in South Asia, India is openly trying to keep Nepal under its domain.

As some Nepali leaders are too vocal to talk negatively about India it has damaged Indo-Nepal relations tremendously. Unless its leaders understand the interest of powerful neighbors and accommodate their own interest the survival of small states like Nepal becomes difficult.

China’s larger interest in this sector is trade and to get into the huge market of South Asia and ultimately to reach the Indian Ocean. Unless India is not in favor of this- China’s interest will not be fulfilled. Hence, China will be unlikely to limit itself to Nepal.

Here, Nepal must understand that the US and Indian interests meet together to stop China to reach the Indian Ocean.

Indian Ocean is not only vast but connects Asia-Pacific rim nations- west Africa- Australia and to rest of the world easily. Thirty percent of total oil transports from the Middle-East to rest of the world sail through Indian Ocean.

‘One Belt One Road’ concept of China becomes viable once it gets through to Indian Ocean- and it is not possible unless India supports it. Geography of Nepal does not permit to go beyond it as it is India locked- so, it is unlikely that China is going to invest much on it.

But, we cannot ignore the fact that people to people relation between the two nations is growing in recent years. Tourism is flourishing in Nepal as Chinese people desire to visit Lumbini, Pokhara as their favored destinations.

Let’s talk again about China’s strategic advantage in the global politics. It is covertly supporting North Korea to test series of ballistic missiles in the Korean peninsula.

The authoritarian regime has escalated tension and countries like Japan, South Korea are in desperate fear of nuclear outburst. The same fear has generated in South Asia due to the tension developed between India- Pakistan on the Kashmir issue.

Pakistan was successful to achieve a nuclear power state position with support from China allowing it to develop the Gadar sea-port to get it into the Arabian Sea. The Pakistan regime has been supporting terrorist outfits in neighboring Afghanistan and India.

Osama Bin-Laden was found sheltering in Pakistan before he was eliminated by the US forces.

Nepal, being surrounded by three nuclear powers of Asia- needs to adopt a careful policy whom to be aligned with.

The policy of half a century old ‘non-alignment’ has no value in the present world order- so, where Nepal wants to incline for its betterment is a burning question.

The author is ex-Brig Gen of Nepal Army and Research Fellow at Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, New Delhi

A version of this article appears in print on September 28, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.

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