As neighbors rise, Nepal must tread with caution

DB Sunar

DB Sunar

As neighbors rise, Nepal must tread with caution

The rise of two close neighbors as regional rivals and as zealots of two distinct ideological agendas has a greater chance of gritting Nepal’s national interest

When it comes to international relations and security, two economically powerful nations have traditionally placed Nepal’s geostrategic situation at the center of their attention. It has been widely discussed in the academic community that when it comes to understanding the US-China rivalry in current politics, Nepal has not only become a focus for the two countries but also for other significant global players.

The norms of the discipline based on the Western school of thought are used to evaluate the politics and foreign policies of the developing world, while the worldviews of smaller states are ignored in international political calculations. According to the realist school of international relations that has notable proponents like Kenneth Waltz and John Mearsheimer, weaker states like Nepal would either join the bandwagon or act as a balance against strong neighboring countries.

Global powers and Nepal

Landlocked by the two powerful neighbors, Nepal’s political situation is likely to draw attention to how it will fare in the global political landscape. With 37 percent of the world’s population, China and India are the second and fifth largest economies in the world, and are vying to become significant participants in world politics. Populations are one of the factors that determine economic mobility in a free-market society, and on this front, China and India have gained significant privilege.

The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, one of the great theses of the early 21st century, posits that states will always strive to amass power and that interstate cooperation is challenging. Mearsheimer underscored that the ‘tragedy’ of great power politics is that even large nations that seek security would nonetheless be obliged to engage in rivalry and conflict with one another. Looking at China and India, we can see that they both engage in cooperation and competition depending on the nature of issues.

But in the case of China and the US, we can come to the same conclusion that Mearsheimer’s theory intersects. The US and China are vying with one another to amass power in order to rule the political system in the current international political dynamics. However, the US has been a status-quo superpower since the fall of the USSR in 1991 and has been struggling to maintain its position as a dominant force, while China has been trying to unseat the US from its coveted position and has thus put forward various initiatives to win over the rest of the world.

Since Xi Jinping’s ascent in 2013, China has been hurriedly assembling all the necessary paraphernalia to launch a mission for the superpower. A few of the well-known initiatives that have already advanced toward their goals are the Belt and Road Initiatives, Global Development Initiatives, Global Security Initiatives, and the Global Civilization Initiatives. With the aim of lowering China’s dependency on the foreign technology and elevating Chinese technological enterprises in the global market, the “Made in China 2025” strategy plan was introduced in 2015. But from Mao’s China to Xi’s China, each one has come up with the concepts for programs meant to aid China’s development and prosperity.

In his vision of the ideal socialist and communist society, Mao saw it as one without oppression or inequality, with enough food and material things. The idea of “invigoration of China” (zhenxing zhonghua) that Deng Xiaoping adopted in 1978 underlines how important it is for China to become more prosperous and powerful. Jiang Zemin advocated for the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” after 1989. “Harmonious society” (hexie shehui) is a narrative that describes the legacy of Hu legacy, who was persuaded to turn to Confucianism to foster harmonious connections both within China and between China and the rest of the world.

The phenomenal development of China since the beginning of this decade has generated a lot of attention among other major players in world affairs. This has made a number of US and allies-led programs more effective in the region. In the light of this, Nepal needs to take meticulous and diplomatic measures to protect national interests as we have signed BRI projects (in 2017) and have welcomed the MCC with the Parliament approving it in 2022.

Nepal equally has to understand underlying facets between Indo-Nepal relations as both the nations share common culture, religion, socio-economic arrangements and history. It has treasured and maintained the fervor of enduring relationships with its close neighbors for a long period, even amid various changes. India must also approach Nepal more practically. It should not give anything more importance than is required. It should behave more like a partner rather than an overbearing big brother. India needs to continually hone its soft diplomacy, which emphasizes values like democracy, human rights, ethics, and culture.

Nepal has always relied on ports like Kolkata in West Bengal for trade with other nations. China is utilizing its engineering prowess to navigate Nepal’s difficult topography and turn it from a ‘landlocked’ to a ‘land-linked’ nation. During KP Oli’s second term as PM, we have seen improvement in relations between China and Nepal as a result of China’s ‘investment diplomacy’, which has placed a heavy emphasis on industrial growth and infrastructural investment—both essential elements of the BRI. The BRI supports the lofty connectivity-related geopolitical and geo-economic goals of a growing China.

Way forward

Nepal has already experienced a series of dire political situations over the decades. We have spent generations for the cause of political transformation. The nations that were on an equal footing with Nepal 30 years ago have already outpaced Nepal in a variety of indicators. On its part, Nepal has failed to even set up a solid platform for growth and prosperity. Nepal needs to improve its production-based economy, attract foreign investments for infrastructure development, repair its ruptured economy, and adopt the right political orientation.

Walt writes that bandwagoning should occur when secondary states partner with the hegemon in response to a perceived threat. On the contrary, Stephens G Brooks and William C Wohlforth argue that balancing is the exclusive strategy where secondary states cooperate with the hegemon so as to avoid potential threat. John Ikenberry introduces the strategy called “institutional binding” which means that states cooperate with the hegemon not because they feel threatened but to achieve mutual gains.

Countries like Nepal should understand and identify the geopolitical elements that emerged in the rise of China and other powers in the international political order in the changing context and must opt for the best option that engrosses the conducive euphoria where Nepal can address its national interests. So as to meet the highest level of national interest, Nepal must go with the third strategy. In the interconnected world, as Anne-Marie Slaughter argues, every entity of the global political system must cooperate with each other one way or the other to acquire a win-win atmosphere. Sandwiched between two giant neighbors, Nepal must understand the priorities and preferences of international players, including regional powers for geopolitical gains in an international political order.

If Nepal fails to engross the institutional binding with both the states, the rise of these two close neighbors as regional rivals and as zealots of two distinct ideological agendas has a greater chance of gritting Nepal’s national interest. It is imperative for Nepal to protect its national interests and to avoid falling prey to pressure from any of the two countries.

The author is PhD Scholar at CCNU, International Relations 

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