Donald Trump in India, ructions in Nepal
There were unmistakable signs during US President Donald Trump’s recent India visit that the two countries are keen on closer collaboration to contain China’s rise in the region. Speaking in New Delhi, Trump said he was “revitalizing” the QUAD initiative with the help of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The QUAD—composed of Australia, Japan, India, and the US—is a platform, just like the Indo-Pacific Strategy, aimed at countering the Chinese BRI. Trump said among the goals of QUAD revival is “ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific.”He reaffirmed the American commitment to fighting radical Islamic terrorism. As if the message was lost on the Indian audience he wanted to woo, he added that the US is also working with Pakistan to confront terrorists who operate “on its soil.” This was also music to the ears of Modi and members of the Hindu nationalist government he leads. Although the gargantuan trade deals Trump likes to trumpet did not materialize during his India sojourn, he could nonetheless boast of selling to India around $3 billion worth of American military hardware. His larger-than-life reception in Ahmedabad will also place him in good stead with the Indian-Americans in the year of the presidential election.
For Nepal, there was a clear message that the Americans are intent on consolidating their ties with India via the Indo-Pacific Strategy to give China a run for its money in South Asia. The American President and the US security establishment are one on this. In the days ahead, expect more pointed US references to Chinese interference in Tibetan affairs in Nepal, more swipes at China’s debt-trap diplomacy, and more Kathmandu visits of top American military officials to cement bilateral security ties. But with the government of its choice in Kathmandu, China won’t hold back either.
Whether the MCC compact is good for Nepal, the Americans will not be pleased at the way PM Oli has appeared helpless in ensuring its smooth passage through the parliament. They were ready to give the communist prime minister benefit of doubt, partly because they had zero trust in the ex-Maoists, including Prachanda. But what if Oli can’t secure their interests? The Indians have been unhappy with him since the blockade days. It makes perfect sense for the Indians and the Americans to join hands to secure their increasingly converging interests in Nepal.
The security establishments in both India and the US are obsessed with China. Minimizing the Middle Kingdom’s footprints in South Asia is their end goal. Towards that end, no tactic, however dirty, will be off limits. As PM Oli slowly loses his grip on power, they espy an opportunity. They will have seen how top Nepali leaders can easily be enticed to compromise on national interests, via amending the national charter if need be. When the three big outside powers here start playing dirty, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen to the country that has barely been able to achieve a semblance of stability after long.
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