Coalition of the unwilling?

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Coalition of the unwilling?

China wants Nepal to be part of global development and security initiatives, which are sketchy at best

It has been more than five years since Nepal became a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, but nothing has come of it yet.

The Chinese side has been consistently putting pressure on Nepal’s political parties to make concrete progress on the issue. In principle, all the parties agree that Nepal should take economic benefits from the BRI, but they differ on the modalities of engagement.

The Nepali Congress of late has been saying that it prefers grants over loans under BRI. The two major leftist parties, CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center), meanwhile, have not made their positions clear. Their leaders, however, say some feasible projects could be implemented.

Even as Nepal’s position on BRI remains unclear, China has come up with two new strategies—Global Development Initiative (GDI) and Global Security initiative (GSI). And now Beijing wants Nepal to be a part of these strategic initiatives as well.

In April 2022, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the GSI, a global governance and security architecture, at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia, stating that it is another global public good offered by China. The details of the security initiative are oblique. Chinese media and experts have explained its contents in a vague notional way.

Sanjay Upadhya, a US-based foreign policy expert, says while some features of the GSI sound attractive, others are too ambiguous.

“The source of ambiguity relates to how the GSI could be implemented as an umbrella mechanism, especially when diverse countries have different security concerns and priorities,” he says.

“For a country like Nepal, the GSI also smacks of a China-led security alliance, which our foreign policy has traditionally shied away from. Even if it were a more benign enterprise, the GSI as it is currently articulated is too sketchy for consideration.”

While China has tried to brand its security initiative as a way to maintain global peace and uphold the UN Charter, observers say it is no more than a counterweight to the US-led security alliance.

President Xi, on the occasion of International Peace Day on Sept 22, sent a congratulatory letter, where he promoted the GSI on a global platform.  He called on all countries to uphold the common, cooperative and sustainable security concept, to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, and to abide by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter.

Both GSI and GDI have become major talking points in all high-level meetings between Nepal and China. Some Chinese officials are even going so far as to claim that Nepal is already a part of these initiatives.

A statement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs following the meeting between Narayan Khadka and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi back in August said that Nepal endorses the visions of the GSI and GDI, and was trying to find a way to participate in and seek synergy with the two initiatives.

A diplomatic source, however, said Khadka had clearly told the Chinese side that Nepal was ready to discuss the GSI only if it is purely a development initiative. “Khadka had also reminded the Chinese side about Nepal’s policy of staying out of military or security alliances,” added the source.

Earlier, the Chinese ambassador to Nepal also claimed that Nepal welcomes the initiatives. Such assertions from China have been partly encouraged also by the decision of President Bidya Devi Bhandari to participate in a high-level meeting of the GSI against the advice of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The ministry had written to the Office of the President, saying that Nepal was yet to decide whether or not to join the GSI, and that it would be inadvisable for the president to participate in the meeting. President Bhandari didn’t heed the recommendation and made a virtual address at the GSI event. Political analysts say as Nepal’s non-alignment policy bars it from joining a military alliance, the president’s office committed a foreign policy indiscretion.

As far as GDI is concerned, two projects have already gone into implementation. One is Nepal Smiling Children Project under which China Foundation for Rural Development, an implementing agency, will provide food for 3,600 children from poor communities. Another is support to schools and communities in remote areas for pandemic prevention and green recovery. Along with Nepal, this project has already been implemented in more than 70 countries.

Arun Subedi, foreign affairs advisor to former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, says Beijing hasn’t sent any official letter of request to join the GSI. “As far as I can tell, there has been no official decision for or against the initiative as China has not made an official correspondence on the matter,” he said.

Gopal Khanal, a foreign affairs analyst, also says that the discourse on Nepal’s possibility of joining or rejecting the GSI and GDI will begin only after the Chinese side officially approaches the government. “China should also share the contents of the initiatives if it wishes Nepal to join them,” he said. “It will help our parties and the government to come up with a position.”

Major components of GSI

  •   Vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security
  • Working together to maintain world peace and security
  •   Respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, upholding non-interference in internal affairs, and respecting the independent choices of development paths and social systems made by people in different countries
  •   Abiding by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, rejecting the Cold War mentality, opposing unilateralism, and shunning group politics and bloc confrontation
  •   Taking the legitimate security concerns of all countries seriously, upholding the principle of indivisible security, building a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture, and opposing the pursuit of one’s own security at the cost of others’ security
  •   Peacefully resolving differences and disputes between countries through dialogue and consultation, supporting all efforts conducive to the peaceful settlement of crises, rejecting double standards, and opposing the wanton use of unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction

·   Maintaining security in both traditional and non-traditional domains, and working together on regional disputes and global challenges such as terrorism, climate change, cybersecurity and biosecurity

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