Track 2 diplomacyDuring the 2015 blockade, KP Oli’s diplomatic efforts to balance against New Delhi by inviting Beijing to Nepal proved to be especially fruitful. However, it also brought myriads of issues, with international relations pundits saying that Indian moves in Nepal in the future would be ‘silent and more hostile’.
During the 2015 blockade, KP Oli’s diplomatic efforts to balance against New Delhi by inviting Beijing to Nepal proved to be especially fruitful. However, it also brought myriads of issues, with international relations pundits saying that Indian moves in Nepal in the future would be ‘silent and more hostile’. Now, ‘Olified Nepal’ (meaning Nepal under the Oli administration) is interestingly becoming a battleground for a Sino-Indo proxy clash. Prime Minister Oli went to Rasuwagadhi after his election victory to tell the people that the Chinese rail would come to Nepal very soon. Meanwhile, Indian international relations pundits are urging the Indian government to bring a more forward policy on Nepal.
This is not a good time for Nepal to engage in diplomatic activities in the name of balancing against India. Nepal should be looking internally and building its economic strengths. Unnecessary diplomatic engagements may prove to be suicidal for Nepal in the long run because of its sensitive geopolitical location. The West and India perceive the current Nepali government to be a ‘good friend’ of Beijing. The landslide victory of the left alliance sidelined the centre-left, which has been historically closer to India.
Growing anti-Indian sentiments in Nepal are forcing New Delhi to look for a new approach to Nepal. The old establishment in the Indian Embassy in Nepal perceive Nepal as its satellite state. The new administration in India is trying to change this, but it is not succeeding. Nepal needs economic connectivity, but it should not be ‘import based’ connectivity. We already have huge trade deficits with India and China. In fiscal year 2016/17, Nepal’s trade deficits with India and China reached Rs491 billion and Rs104.6 billion respectively.
An open border and free flow goods and services have resulted in a massive trade deficit with India. There is less connectivity between Nepal and China, so the deficit is also low. If connectivity increases, the deficit will also increase. So, Nepal should start manufacturing and producing goods. Otherwise, the Nepali government will levy heavy duties on imports from India and China. And as a new source of income, the Nepali government will sign accords with other countries to export its cheap labour. Youths will have no choice but to migrate due to limited economic opportunities domestically.
Our shortsighted leaders desire to integrate Nepal into India and China for the sake of an ‘import based economy’. When goods and services flow into Nepal, it will develop, but only for a short period. In the long term, these powerful countries will start ‘dumping’ in Nepal, making it unable to produce, sell and manufacture goods on the same scale as them. So, connectivity is good; but Nepal should start manufacturing immediately. If we lose our manufacturing components in our economy at this initial phase, we will lose everything in the future.
This can be seen from the wave of privatization in health and education that began in the early 1990s. Privatization led to the opening of many schools and hospitals in Nepal. But privatization expanded so rapidly that it went out of control of Nepal’s weak government. Privatization is not bad, but in the initial phase, the government should have a strong oversight mechanism. So, the government should build Nepal’s production capacity before opening it to the world’s giant markets—India and China.
Superpowers persuade weaker countries with economic benefits. In the initial phase, the recipient country will benefit; but later, it will fall under a trap. Nepal’s geo-political location, its fragile political status, low Human Development Index and landlocked feature put it at risk of foreign boots. So, Nepal needs to strengthen itself. Foreign assistance and involvement is not absolutely wrong, but the Nepali Foreign Ministry should critically analyse the threats, opportunities and outcomes of such assistance.
In addition, it has been observed that there seems to be lack of coordination between the Foreign Ministry and the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers. Secondly, our two missions in Geneva and New York are very inactive. There isn’t any monitoring and evaluation done about the performance of these missions. It is a matter of national shame that our mission in Geneva is running a website made using a Wordpress template. This shows the level of our diplomatic expertise and mocks Nepal’s prestige in international affairs. Nepali youths get a chance to enter the foreign service after passing the Public Service Commission examination. They are eligible to serve in Nepal’s foreign missions after serving two years in the country. And we hear many stories of breach of diplomatic protocol committed by our Nepali diplomats. This has to end.
In conclusion, we need Track 2 diplomacy. Track 2 is a newer way of looking at and practicing diplomacy. Like Track 1, it is not done by governments but by think tanks, intellectuals, NGOs and cultural programmes. We can see the level of engagements of Track 2 diplomacy in India and China. Indian intellectuals influence the foreign affairs of the Indian government. Our leaders who have limited knowledge of foreign affairs and low proficiency in English are evidence of our backwardness in promoting our national interest abroad. In today’s world, only embassies are not able to promote diplomacy and national interest. So, let us promote Track 2 diplomacy to prevent Nepal from becoming a pawn in the geopolitical Great Game and strengthen the country economically, socially and politically.
Pant is a development consultant