Nepal seeks to sidestep China’s GSI requestTalking to Kantipur in New York, Dahal had categorically denied chances of Nepal joining a security-related alliance.
Amid a geopolitical flux, the Chinese side is pushing for Nepal to welcome the Global Security Initiative (GSI) and its Global Civilisational Initiative (GCI) and has sought increased cooperation on the new twin initiatives. The Chinese side aims to formalise this position in a joint communique likely to be released after the delegation-level talks between Dahal and his Chinese counterpart Li Qiang on Monday in Beijing. This leaves Nepal in a state of confusion.
Before leaving for China’s Hangzhou, in an interview in New York with Kantipur, the Post’s sister publication, Dahal had categorically denied the chances of Nepal joining a security-related alliance.
Speaking in the context of China’s Belt and Road during the interview, the prime minister stated that China is initiating the GSI, the GCI and the Global Development Initiative (GDI) and among these, there is no hesitation to participate in the GDI.
“But we cannot wade into security-related issues. It is our stated policy not to be under the umbrella of any side. Ours is a non-aligned foreign policy. On the other hand, we are saying the American Indo-Pacific Strategy and State Partnership Program are part of security initiatives. If we are not taking part in one initiative [IPS, SPP], we cannot join others too,” said Dahal during the interview.
But just a day after this interview, Dahal made a somewhat contradictory remark in China’s Hangzhou city during his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday.
According to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dahal said Nepal supports a series of important concepts and initiatives proposed by Chinese President Xi.
After coming to power in 2013, Chinese President Xi has come up with a series of initiatives like the BRI, GSI, GDI and GCI and the Chinese side keeps asking Nepal to support them resolutely.
“Nepal supports a series of important concepts and initiatives put forward by President Xi Jinping, and is willing to work with China to promote the development of the international order in a more just and reasonable direction, safeguard the common interests of developing countries, and promote the building of a community with a shared future for mankind,” a statement issued by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs quoted Prime Minister Dahal as saying.
“As China wants to insert something related to the GSI and the GCI in the joint communique, we have some reservations,” a Nepali official in Beijing said over the phone. “We are negotiating with the Chinese side to remove any clause with security and strategic connotations. We are not going to be part of the GSI or give any word or commitment on it,” said the official, who is involved in negotiation with the Chinese side.
“The prime minister is fully aware of the geopolitical sensitivity,” Haribol Gajurel, chief political adviser to Dahal, told the Post before leaving for Beijing. “We need to convince the Chinese as they are not happy with some of our positions, but we will not sign anything that will go against our country’s stated policy.”
CD Bhatta, a geopolitical analyst, said: “Dahal’s interview with Kantipur and his statement during his meeting with the Chinese President contradict each other. It is our reality that we cannot afford to join the GSI,” said.
“As we refused to join the United States’ SPP, we cannot be part of the GSI, which is China’s security architecture,” said Bhatta while adding that China still hopes Nepal may join its security initiative.
“We did not take part in a joint military exercise in India organised by BIMSTEC,” the prime minister said in the interview. “We only took part in programmes related to development. That is why we cannot remain under the security umbrella of any country. Nepal’s geo-political sensitivity does not allow us to stay under anyone’s security umbrella.”
To execute the GCI, the most recent of the four initiatives, the Chinese side said it has already set up several Confucius Institutes and recently concluded the Dragon Boat Festival in Pokhara, which Chinese Ambassador Chen Song calls a part of the GCI.
On the BRI, officials from Beijing said that the implementation plan, which was said to have been the top Chinese priority for signing during Dahal’s visit, is unlikely to go ahead.
However, a mention of the Chinese concerns over the BRI implementation plan will be included, with mutual consent, in a joint statement to be issued after the talks.
Nepal joined the BRI, an ambitious Chinese global infrastructure push, in 2017. Even though there has been a lot of talk about the BRI’s execution in Nepal, not a single project under it has taken off.
As Nepal has some reservations over project financing and funding under the BRI, Dahal, in the Kantipur interview, stated that Nepal cannot afford loans to execute the projects. “If we are offered grants under the BRI, we will accept them. There are no differences over this issue within the government,” said the prime minister, who expressed some reservations over the BRI too.
The Nepali Congress, one of the major government partners, has already warned the prime minister not to agree to security-related matters and the BRI’s implementation because the initiative also proposes strategic exchanges between the law enforcement agencies of the two countries.
“In the current context, we need to review the BRI pact, because we cannot afford equal contributions [as China],” said Bhatta. “Probably, when leaders from both sides meet, they will heed each other’s concerns.”
Besides the BRI, the Chinese president announced the GDI in 2021, the GSI in 2022, and the GCI in 2023, inviting the international community to join these undertakings.
Nepal has accepted two small projects under the GDI as it aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, but has refused to join the GSI as per its stated foreign policy.
In September last year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs advised former President Bidya Devi Bhandari not to take part in a GSI-related event as the concept was still under study at the top political level, and no official decision was taken in Kathmandu even after the Chinese side invited her to address the event remotely.
“The prime minister should consider the suggestion given by the ruling partners and be mindful of what another neighbouring country [India] and other powerful countries say,” said Gajurel.
Some foreign policy observers said the prime minister should tell the Chinese side in clear terms about Nepal’s international obligations.
“The prime minister should not hesitate to communicate our commitments, to what extent we can go and what we can’t do,” said Yubnath Lamsal, former Nepali ambassador to Denmark. “As per our stated foreign policy, we have already drawn a red line.”
Lamsal added: “No doubt, we should take support from China, India, the US and other sides but while doing so, we have to be mindful of our sensitivity and emerging geopolitical realities. Within the ambit of our stated foreign policy, the prime minister should seek Chinese support.”
Speaking at a function in the Capital on Sunday, economist Chandra Mani Adhikari said Nepal should seek grants to execute projects under the BRI and if that is not available, it should seek concessional loans with an interest rate below that offered by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and other global lenders.
Adhikari suggested that Nepal had not weighed the pros and cons before signing up to the BRI and the US Millennium Challenge Corporation. “Now that we have already signed it, we have to take advantage of the BRI. Investments under it should be made in Nepal’s infrastructure and energy sectors,” he said.