Squashed in the middleA Kathmandu-New Delhi-Beijing diplomatic corridor is an urgent need for Nepal
International relations pundits, politicians and intellectuals in Kathmandu seem to be dreaming about a massive economic boom in Nepal with neighbours pouring billions of dollars into infrastructure projects. This also indicates that our diplomacy is turning into beggar diplomacy as state visits and meetings are meant for the sole purpose of receiving foreign aid pledges. The recent heated debate on a trans-Himalayan economic corridor passing through China, Nepal and India is one prime example. Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali talked about this subject during a press conference in China. Interestingly, one important stakeholder, India, is unaware about this proposed economic corridor.
We are living in an utterly difficult time diplomatically. Two of our giant neighbours are promising to implement numerous projects in Nepal which is a sign of the success of our beggar diplomacy. This also suggests that Nepalis will not have to work to develop the country. Development will come to their doorsteps. In diplomacy, none of the support is generous or free. Beggar diplomacy is making holes in Nepal’s economy due to the foreign debt it brings along. This is killing Nepal’s comparative advantage in products like cardamom, honey, lentils, tea, ginger, noodles, medicinal herbs, essential oils, handmade paper, silver jewellery, iron and steel, pashmina, woollen products, hydroelectricity, sugar, cement and dairy products and increasing their imports.
In 2016, Nepal’s exports totalled $1.31 billion while imports amounted to $13.2 billion, resulting in negative trade of
$11.8 billion. The country’s 2017 budget was worth Rs1,278.99 billion, out of which foreign grants and loans made up
Rs72.17 billion and Rs214.04 billion respectively. In this way, Nepal is becoming an aid rentier state, earning most of its income from foreign aid.
Multilateralism or alliances with multiple countries is increasingly becoming the new normal in current international affairs. Many people support the idea of governing international political behaviour through the creation of
international institutions to promote global cooperation, especially to solve the world’s complex challenges.
There is also growing regional cooperation in the world with countries building innovative diplomatic solutions for regional issues. Country-country engagement in solving state rivalries is also becoming popular these days. Such actions can be seen in the dual freeze and dual suspension peace talks brokered by China to promote long and lasting prosperity on the Korean peninsula.
The way forward
Pursuant to the above fact, it seems quite natural that India and China try to pursue their interests in Nepal.
Therefore, to keep the relations between Nepal, India and China intact and to identify the distinct role of the West in Nepal, it is necessary to set up a Kathmandu-New Delhi-Beijing (KNB) diplomatic corridor.
Without assuring a secure position for China and India in Nepal and identifying the distinct role of the West, there will no economic boom in the country; instead it will be pushed to the brink of internal conflict. A lesson can be learned from the case study of Afghanistan where a proxy war between the USSR and the US turned into a real war with the rise of various factions within the country.
Whether two lions fight or make love, it causes the ground to shake. Similar thing happened in Afghanistan. Trends show that Nepal is going through something lsimilar. If there had been a similar diplomatic corridor in Afghanistan, it would have put the USSR and the US on the same table and altered the country’s destiny.
The proposed diplomatic corridor will manage the concerns of India and China besides the West, and keep Nepal secure and prevent it from becoming a satellite state of any one of these countries. This diplomatic corridor is important as India and China are rising amid a power struggle in global politics.
Whether India and China reconsile or brew hostility, both are equally inauspicious for Nepal if there is no equity share or respect for its sovereignty. Both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jingping are ambitious leaders, and their coordinated or coercive strategy always puts Nepal a geopolitically difficult position. Nepal’s safety and survival is becoming oping as a big question mark in this interestingly changing global order of the 21st century.
There has always been a great game being played throughout history. Wars, proxy wars and economic blockades are normal in international realpolitik. Many reports suggest that Nepal, a developing nation with a relatively weak government to counter global rivalries, is one of the flashpoints in Asia. Regretabbly, small and weaker countries always have a difficult time resisting the bullying by giant powers.
To conclude, the divided national interest in Nepal is becoming more intense. This will turn the expected economic boom into tatters in no time. For a limited period of time, Nepal will have to face geopolitical rivalries between the West, India and China due to its location and low performing economy. In order to prevent the various stakeholders inside and outside, Nepal should be brought to the diplomatic table. It is for this reason the KNB diplomatic corridor is a necessity.
Pant is a development consultant