Four years after Nepal and the US signed the MCC compact, we are back to square one. Those who believed in 2017 that the compact was a devil’s bargain continue to be dead-set against it. The camp pushing it is as adamant about the great good the compact, once ratified, can do for Nepal.
With the Nepal Communist Party government’s near two-thirds majority—while only a simple majority would be needed for the compact’s parliamentary approval—it should have had no trouble getting it passed. But a party faction intent on pulling the rug from under PM Oli would have none of it. Those in this faction saw in the compact American imperial designs writ large. Not coincidentally, the compact’s strongest opponents have also traditionally been seen as China’s biggest enablers in Nepal.
The MCC compact, as its opponents allege, is indeed a part of the American Indo-Pacific Strategy that is aimed at curtailing China’s rise. For the same reason, in principle, I am opposed to the idea of its parliamentary approval. How can our national legislature approve a pact aimed at one of our only two neighbors? In practice, I don’t see the compact’s ratification as a big issue. In fact, having signed the compact, Nepal would do well to ratify it too.
But I am being two-faced, right? Perhaps. Yet the reality is that Nepal will have to keep engaging with the Americans in the foreseeable future. The reason we established diplomatic ties with the US in 1947 was to use the country as a counterweight to India and China, both of whose influence in Nepal was growing alarmingly. Only through the involvement of a powerful third party like the US, the thinking went, could Nepal preserve its independence. That logic still holds. Can’t Nepal engage with the Americans under some other agreement? We could. But again, there will be no substantive difference.
If not the MCC, we will have to sign on to something similar, for the chief goal of the American foreign policy in Asia will continue to be to check communist China’s rise by supporting democracies in the region, India chiefly. So either Nepal has to stop engaging with the Americans, or we have to agree to do business along mutually beneficial lines. Again, American involvement in Nepal is vital not only to balance China’s presence but also to keep India honest. There is a reason India has always loathed the presence of a third power in its traditional backyard.
There are no free lunches in international diplomacy and it would be naïve of Nepal to expect one. Moreover, the fundamentals of Nepali foreign policy have not changed and it is in Nepali national interest to widen our options beyond India and China. You don’t have to like the Americans. All that matters is the protection of our national interests in what is a tough geopolitical landscape. Regrettably, the MCC compact has been turned into a political football that has little to do with American foreign policy and a lot with Nepal’s internal power dynamics.
Also strange is our political leaders’ lack of faith in the sovereign parliament. Let the democratic process prevail. And for god’s sake, stop seeing the MCC as a life or death issue for Nepal. It’s not. Again, not a big fan of it but we can’t have our cake and eat it too.