MCC and the communistsWhat beats reason is why our communist parties feel the need to ‘protect’ China.
In the late 1990s, the issue of the encroachment of Kalapani by India had roiled national politics with the communist parties spearheading protests. That included a somewhat foolhardy, and fortunately not fully realised, attempt to physically dislodge Indian troops from Kalapani with a march by the youth brigade of the CPN-UML to the area. It was around that time that the late Harka Gurung had observed in a keynote address the apparent paradox that our communist parties, the fount of our fabled nationalism consisting mainly of bashing our southern neighbour, were all born in India. Resorting to his well-known sardonic wit, Gurung did not fail to point out the exception of the Nepal Majdoor Kisan Party, which he said had entered via Kodari highway.
The corollary to this paradox is the blind allegiance of our communist parties to China, or rather to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). By no stretch of imagination can the CCP still be called a communist party wedded to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism principles. Regardless of its ideological acrobatics to justify the adoption of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, China has become more like a run-of-the-mill one-party state as existed, say in Indonesia under Suharto and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and even present-day Vietnam whereby party membership becomes a prerequisite for personal advancement rather than a means to further the common good.
This presumed affinity with the CCP has left many in the political left paranoid about both the “imperialist” West and “expansionist” India. An example of this fear psychosis was on full display when the Maoists were on a roll in the late 1990s and early 2000s; many leftist intellectuals sincerely believed the insurgency to be a CIA plot, with Indian connivance, to foment instability in China’s weak underbelly of Tibet. It mattered nought to them that, at the same time, the ill-informed Indian intelligentsia believed the Maoist movement to be just a proxy battle being waged by China to gain a foothold in South Asia.
It is thus not surprising that the ongoing protests against the proposed Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant should come primarily from the left since it is seen as part of a larger strategy by the West led by the United States to encircle China. While it is beyond doubt any attempt by any other country to use Nepal for aggression against any other nation should be opposed, especially when it concerns either of our two neighbours, what beats reason is why our communist parties feel the need to “protect” China at the cost of our own national interest.
There are several questions raised about the MCC grant. There is no reason to rehash those arguments since far better and wiser minds have been engaged in deconstructing the agreement. The main question is whether there lurks any sinister design behind the American largesse with Nepal being willy-nilly dragged into what the US has called its Indo-Pacific Strategy. If we go by the MCC’s clarifications to some of the objections raised here in Nepal, it has categorically stated that “the MCC Nepal Compact is not an agreement under the Indo-Pacific Strategy…The strong relationship between the United States and Nepal long pre-dates the Indo-Pacific Strategy… Any decision by Nepal regarding the Indo-Pacific Strategy is separate and independent from the MCC Nepal Compact”.
That may very well be the case in principle, except that anyone cognisant of how international affairs are conducted knows that there are usually strategic reasons behind the doling out of foreign aid. American interest in Nepal has always been driven by the spectre of communist China to our north. That was the time the US was principally engaged in preventing what it believed would be the domino effect of Asian countries falling to communism one by one. Thus, at one end, it found itself ensnared in Vietnam for years, while in places like Nepal, it encouraged policies like land reforms as a hedge against the landless peasantry taking up arms in the name of communism.
The 21st century has proved little different except that it is not communism that is giving the US the funk but an ascendant China now claiming parity with it on the global stage. Hence, the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS), which, incidentally, is the formulation increasingly being adopted by others, including the European Union, Australia and Japan, with the common aim of furthering partnerships in the region to counter the rise of China.
As for any connection that may exist between the IPS and the MCC, one only has to go through the 2019 US government publication, A Free and Open Indo-Pacific: Advancing a Shared Vision, to find the following: “[T]he inaugural Indo-Pacific Business Forum in July 2018…launched new initiatives to catalyse private sector investment in Indo-Pacific infrastructure, energy markets, and the digital economy. To date, support has included $2.9 billion through the Department of State and USAID for the economic pillar of the Indo-Pacific strategy…, and hundreds of millions more through other agencies, including the US Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).”
Nowhere does it say that the MCC is part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, but one need not even read between the lines to conclude that these are different arms of the US government working to achieve the overall American foreign policy goals. Lest we had any doubt about our place in the IPS, it would be immediately put to rest by the image in the same publication of our then foreign minister, Pradeep Gyawali, smilingly locked in a handshake with his American counterpart.
We can debate all we want whether or not we want to or should be part of the IPS. The truth is the USA has already included Nepal along with 23 other countries within its Indo-Pacific Strategy. A Free and Open Indo-Pacific touts the support it has provided to Nepal: i) become more effective in UN peacekeeping; ii) strengthen the legal and regulatory framework for infrastructure; iii) increase capacity for cross-border electricity trade; iv) draft Nepal’s Energy Regulatory Commission Act; and v) strengthen civil society in contributing to the drafting of legislation. Every assistance from Washington DC would hence be mediated by where we stand apropos the IPS. Is it any wonder that a State Department official (reportedly) hinted at revisiting Nepal-US ties should we find the temerity to reject the MCC grant?
Unless we are willing the accept the price of firmly attaching ourselves to China a la North Korea, we have no choice but to continue with our strict policy of equidistance from all. That means the pragmatic adaptation of our vision of the national interest to an ever-changing world instead of being stuck in the mindset from the 1950s and 1960s, and being open to help from every possible source.
Besides the unparalleled clout, the US carries in the world, that it is our largest bilateral donor has been repeatedly mentioned. At a more mundane level though it is also the country to which a huge number of Nepalis aspire to migrate. Nepal consistently features among the top five or six countries with the highest number of applicants for the Diversity Visa lottery. Sadly, there were sure to have been quite a few of the latter hurling stones during the anti-MCC protests—just because their leaders told them to.