Bhandari attending Beijing’s GSI event after foreign ministry’s bungleThe President is well aware of Nepal’s non-alignment policy, adviser says.
Despite reservations from Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka against her planned participation on Wednesday in a Global Security Initiative (GSI) meeting organised by the Chinese Communist Party, President Bidya Devi Bhandari is set to take part in it. Officials said she will participate virtually.
Nepal has not joined the China-led GSI despite repeated calls from Beijing to support the new security initiative undertaken and announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Boao Forum for Asia in April.
Nepal, citing its policy of non-alignment, has so far refused to join any military alliance or initiative. In July, Foreign Minister Khadka told Parliament that Nepal would not be a part of the US-led State Partnership Programme (SPP), as he expressed reservations over its military component.
Recently, the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu wrote to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stating that “under the guidance of the International Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, the Chinese People’s Association of Peace 2022 is being organised on Wednesday from 17:00 to 18:30 hours Beijing time (09:00-10:30 GMT)”.
According to the embassy, the event themed “Acting on the Global Security Initiative to Maintain World Peace and Stability” is being convened in a hybrid format with both online and offline participants.
Arun Subedi, foreign relations adviser to Prime Minister Deuba, told the Post that the Prime Minister’s Office, Prime Minister Deuba, Foreign Minister Khadka and other senior officials at the foreign ministry have already advised the President against participating in the “controversial” event.
The reservations of the Prime Minister’s Office about the President’s planned participation were communicated to the President’s Office by Chief Secretary Shankar Das Bairagi, according to officials.
But officials at the President’s Office told the Post that in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, President Bhandari is all set to make a brief speech at the event after approval from senior foreign ministry officials.
“It is both immature and strange on the part of the foreign ministry that initially approved the President’s participation in the event to later express reservations after apprehensions by the prime minister,” said an official at the Prime Minister’s Office, adding, “In fact, Bhandari had informed the prime minister about the event during a tea reception on the Constitution Day on Monday.”
The Chinese authorities, on three back to back occasions in the recent past, have insisted that Nepal supports the Beijing-led Global Security Initiative and the Global Development Initiative. But the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet to react to the Chinese claim, particularly on the GSI.
“It is expected that political leaders, political organisations and representatives of peace organisations, security think tanks from around the world will focus on the theme and engage in penetrating discussions at the event so they could make positive contribution to world peace and stability with their insight and consensus,” reads the Chinese Embassy letter dispatched to the foreign ministry.
While inviting President Bhandari to participate in the event, the Chinese Embassy letter stated, “It takes our great privilege to invite HE Ms Bidya Devi Bhandari to participate in the event and deliver a six-minute speech in real time. The concept note and invitation letter are attached herewith.”
Talking to the Post earlier, foreign policy observers and security experts said Nepal should carefully study issues related to security, military and strategic affairs initiated by a country or bloc and should do nothing to turn the country into a hub for geo-political rivalry and competition.
During a recent virtual meeting with Chairman of the National Assembly Ganesh Prasad Timilsina, Wang Yang, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee, again brought up the issue of GSI.
Among other things, according to Xinhua, the Chinese state-owned news agency, Wang told Timilisina that China welcomes Nepal to support and participate in the Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative.
The issue was already brought to the Parliament’s notice by former deputy prime minister and foreign minister Sujata Koirala. She had also sought a reply from Foreign Minister Khadka. But Khadka failed to respond.
“We have told the Chinese that Nepal could participate in the Global Development Initiative, but we are yet to decide on joining the Global Security Initiative given our policy of non-alignment,” said a government secretary, adding, “But how can a ceremonial president participate in such a controversial event about which top officials have strong reservations?”
“In fact, the government is the chief adviser to the president. Without prior consent and approval from the government, she should avoid becoming part of such a controversial event. Our foreign policy does not allow us to be part of any military alliance or give any hint of support to such alliances,” the secretary said.
Successive governments in Kathmandu have been opting out of all security alliances and this position became more vocal after Nepal refused to participate in a Bimstec joint military drill in September 2018. Later, Nepal refused to join two more security related initiatives forwarded by the United States to the earlier government of KP Oli and then the current Sher Bahadur Deuba government.
The Oli government declined a US request to participate in the US-led Indo-Pacific Strategy, which became hugely controversial in the run-up to the parliamentary passage of the $500 million Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact.
Recently, the Sher Bahadur Deuba government refused to join the State Partnership Program of the US government saying that it carries military and security components.
Foreign policy observers and experts, citing Nepal’s foreign policy position, said the country should not rush to join the GSI without studying its possible ramifications.
Tika Dhakal, expert adviser on information and communication to President Bhandari, told the Post that Bhandari will participate in the event organised by a Chinese non-governmental organisation and give a brief speech.
Dhakal said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has coordinated the event, passed the invitation to the President’s Office and also prepared a draft speech for the President to read out at the event.
“After we received the invitation from the foreign ministry, the President’s Office confirmed her participation. The foreign ministry sent a draft speech, which we have modified to include some key issues including non-alignment, which is a key tenet of Nepal’s foreign policy, and our policy of avoiding any security alliance,” said Dhakal.